Pilot swerves to avoid collision with planet

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.


  1. jamessweet says

    You know, thinking about this a little more, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen all the frikkin’ time… one of the first lessons of aviation is that the way to tell if another plane is on a collision course with you is if, perhaps counter-intuitively, it appears to be perfectly stationary from your perspective. It makes perfect sense if you think about it for a moment, but of course it takes some retraining of our intuitions because, in our regular earthbound existence, objects which we perceive to be stationary are the least threat. Pilots have to retrain themselves so that their instinctual reaction is, “If it’s not moving, then duck!”

    So Venus… a very bright, apparently stationary light… yeah, that pretty much looks exactly like another plane you are about to collide with. Like I say, I can’t believe this doesn’t happen all the time…

  2. a miasma of incandescent plasma says

    Reminds me of the story Neil deGrasse Tyson tells about a cop calling in to his station to report that he’s chasing a UFO and the ship is keeping up with him as he handles a swervy road, and it turns out he’s following Venus.

    But hey, Venus is dangerous, simply put an extra-large pizza there and it’ll be cooked in 7 seconds. It’s best to error on the side of caution when dealing with Venus.

  3. Peter says

    This gives me one more reason not to fly with Air Canada again. I have had too many bad experiences with surly flight attendants, poor baggage handling, stupid scheduling, and unbelievably bad wine.

    I had to travel to India for work and took Air Canada from Vancouver to Seattle and on the return trip from Hong Kong to Vancouver. They managed to lose my luggage both times and it took several days to get it. Thanks to Lufthanza (a much better airline), I had money to buy clothes in India.

    On a trip to Scotland Air Canada delayed our departure in Vancouver so 4 people wouldn’t miss their connection. As a result about 30 people missed connecting flights in Toronto. They added to the problem by giving me incorrect instructions. I was told to get my bags and then go to Terminal 1. They should have told me (and a few others) to go to Terminal 1 and get my bags. This error caused me to arrive at my hotel too late to call Scotland and tell my host not to pick me up at the airport in Glasgow, a 160 mile round trip for him.

    Canada would be better served by a privately owned airline. I live in a banana republic that has a better airline than one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.

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