While it may sound like something out of a really bad ’50s Hollywood sci-fi movie, the headline reads true. An Air Canada pilot has violently manoeuvred his plane after he thought the planet Venus was attacking it on a flight between Toronto and Zurich.
As with most stories that read like this, it goes a bit deeper than just being bat-crap crazy. The pilot (who was in the position of First Officer) was severely fatigued after a heavy work schedule and little sleep due to young children. He had just woken from a 75-minute nap which is against regulation. To prevent deep sleep pilots are only allowed a maximum 40-minute nap while at the controls. Unsurprisingly, when he awoke he was extremely disoriented.
Unfortunately he awoke as word came through the radio that a US cargo plane was close to them but not on a collision course. He first mistook the planet Venus, which was visible, for the cargo plane but was told otherwise by the captain. On seeing the cargo plane he then misinterpreted where it was coming from and put the Boeing 767 into a violent descent to avoid the perceived threat.
Of the 99 passengers and eight crew on board, fourteen passengers and two crew were injured. The plane dropped about 4,000 feet before the Captain could regain control of the aircraft.
Air Canada said in a statement that it regretted the incident and was doing what it could to make sure working hours for pilots was acceptable. “”Air Canada has developed a special fatigue report form for use in its safety reporting system … this enhanced system should be in place in summer of 2012,” said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.