Sleepy Air Canada pilot thought Venus was a plane

Mon Apr 16, 2012 6:46pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A sleepy Air Canada pilot first mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft, and then sent his airliner diving toward the Atlantic to prevent an imaginary collision with another plane, an official report said on Monday.

Sixteen passengers and crew were hurt in the January 2011 incident, when the first officer rammed the control stick forward to avoid a U.S. plane he wrongly thought was heading straight toward him.

"Under the effects of significant sleep inertia (when performance and situational awareness are degraded immediately after waking up), the first officer perceived the oncoming aircraft as being on a collision course and began a descent to avoid it," Canada's Transportation Safety Board said.

"This occurrence underscores the challenge of managing fatigue on the flight deck," said chief investigator Jon Lee.

The incident occurred at night on board a Boeing 767 twin engine passenger plane flying from Toronto to Zurich in Switzerland with 95 passengers and eight crew.

The report said the first officer had just woken up, disoriented, from a long nap, when he learned from the pilot that a U.S. cargo plane was flying toward them.

"The FO (First Officer) initially mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft but the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o'clock position (straight ahead) and 1,000 feet below," said the report.

"When the FO saw the oncoming aircraft, the FO interpreted its position as being above and descending towards them. The FO reacted to the perceived imminent collision by pushing forward on the control column," the report continued.   Continued...