It can be easy to mistake things when you’re tired, however there are far more consequences when you’re a pilot and are sleepy as passengers on a night flight found out last year. A report which was released on Monday stated that a tired Air Canada pilot first mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft which caused the aircraft to nosedive when he took evasive action to avoid an impending collision with another plane.His mistake resulted in sixteen passengers and crew being injured in the January 2011 incident. The pilot thought that the planet was another aircraft heading right towards them, so he rammed the control stick forward to avoid what he wrongly thought was a US plane.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said: “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. This occurrence underscores the challenge of managing fatigue on the flight deck.”
The aircraft, a Boeing 767 twin engine passenger that had 95 passengers and eight crew on board and was travelling at night from Toronto to Zurich in Switzerland. According to the report into the incident, 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. When he looked out he mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft, however even though the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o’clock position (straight ahead) and 1,000 feet (305 meters) below the first officer still took action.
The report stated: “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 aircraft dropped at least 400 feet before the captain pulled back on the control column, with the sudden movement of the aircraft causing injury to passengers who at the time were not wearing seat belts even though the sign was on. In total fourteen passengers and two crew members were hurt, and seven needed hospital treatment.
Apparently the pilot had had napped for 75 minutes rather than the 40-minute maximum laid down by airline regulations so when he awoke from a deeper sleep he was disoriented. He had stated that his young children often interrupted his sleep at home which is why he fell into the deep sleep.