In a story that might almost have been funny if nobody had been hurt, an Air Canada pilot put his aircraft into a steep dive to avoid a collision—with the planet Venus.
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.
The pilot had just awakened from a long nap and was still a bit groggy at the time.
“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.
According to the story, the first officer had just had a 75 minute nap (versus the maximum 40 minute nap mandated by airline policy), leaving him disoriented from deep sleep. The captain had told him there was a cargo plane approaching them, and the first officer mistook Venus for the oncoming plane, which he perceived as coming straight towards them on a descending path.
US-based airlines use three pilots for nighttime transatlantic flights, but Air Canada saves money by using only two.