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Canada Transportation News

Snoozing Pilot Mistakes Venus For Aircraft; Panic, Injuries Ensue 307

Posted by Soulskill
from the to-be-fair-they-do-look-a-lot-alike dept.
Cazekiel writes "In January 2011, an Air Canada Boeing 767 carrying 95 passengers and eight crew members was on route to Zurich from Toronto when its First Officer, fatigued and disoriented from a long nap he'd taken, panicked in seeing what he believed to be a U.S. cargo plane on a collision course with his aircraft. The panicking F.O. pushed forward on the control column to make a rapid descent. Only, it wasn't an aircraft he'd been looking at, but Venus. According to the article: 'The airliner dropped about 400 feet before the captain pulled back on the control column. Fourteen passengers and two crew were hurt, and seven needed hospital treatment. None were wearing seat belts, even though the seat-belt sign was on.' The only danger in this situation had been the F.O. napping for 75 minutes instead of the maximum 40, as the disorientation and confusion stemming from deeper sleep was the culprit in this mix-up. However, the Air Canada Pilots Association, 'has long pressured authorities to take the stresses of night flying into account when setting the maximum hours a pilot can work,' taking into account that North Atlantic night-flights are hardest on an already-fatigued pilot."
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Snoozing Pilot Mistakes Venus For Aircraft; Panic, Injuries Ensue

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  • Air Canada? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:10PM (#39717983)

    Were many beavers injured?

  • by Zaelath (2588189) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:12PM (#39717989)

    then they could just show video of what happens if you don't use your seatbelt on an aircraft to that 10% of idiots that know better instead of the boring safety talk.

  • by GeneralSecretary (1959616) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:14PM (#39718005)
    Mesdames et Messieurs, dans le cas d'une collision interplanétaire s'il vous plaît attachez vos ceintures ... Ladies and Gentlemen, in the event of an interplanetary collision please fasten your seatbelts...
  • by Morky (577776) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:20PM (#39718033)
    It's too big to be a space station. I have a very bad feeling about this.
  • by nemui-chan (550759) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:21PM (#39718043) Homepage
    Luckily it wasn't in America. If it was, the TSA would stop allowing pilots through checkpoints, since they're clearly a flight risk.
  • radar... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by alienzed (732782)
    Do planes no longer have this?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fustakrakich (1673220)

      For traffic, it's TCAS..

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Weather radar? Yes. Traffic collision alerting system? Yes, though not much use unless the guy in the other aircraft has turned his transponder on...

    • Re:radar... (Score:5, Informative)

      by inglorion_on_the_net (1965514) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:24PM (#39718521) Homepage

      As far as I know, commercial aircraft have never had radar to detect traffic. They do usually have weather radar, but that's for detecting bad weather, not traffic.

      There is TCAS [wikipedia.org], but I don't see how that would have avoided this. Sure, the pilot could have thought "TCAS doesn't say anything is there, so I'll just continue on", but is that really what you expect a panicked pilot to do?

      Also, avoiding anyway is probably the right response: safety systems do fail, and you're not going to score any points by saying "but TCAS didn't say there was any danger" if there is a real collision, because you and your passengers will be dead.

      The real story is that operating vehicles while impaired causes accidents. We know this. That's why we regulate it; there are limits on how many hours in a row you can work, how much sleep you must have had, how much alcohol can be in your blood, and more. Apparently, it wasn't enough to prevent this incident.

  • by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreak.eircom@net> on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:23PM (#39718065) Homepage Journal

    Personally, I'd prefer my pilots to take evasive action when they feel its neccessary, and not pick up a habit of second guessing themselves to avoid bad PR. Yes, passengers were injured, but TFA notes that the seatbelt light was on.

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:41PM (#39718179) Homepage

      Yes it's a bad thing for pilots to sleep longer than they're supposed to because they're overworked, then panic because they just woke up from deep sleep and so can't tell the difference between an airplane and a planet despite being well experienced to tell the difference when awake.

      The problem isn't that when the pilot thought he was about to hit another aircraft he took an evasive maneuver.

      The problem is the circumstances that resulted in him mistaking Venus for an aircraft he was about to crash into.

      What if his evasive actions had caused him to crash into an actual airplane that was at a lower altitude which he didn't notice because, again, he'd just woken from a deep sleep?

      The whole point is that his judgment was temporarily impaired because he was fucking groggy, and you're asking "is this a bad thing?" Yes! Yes it is!

      • by WankersRevenge (452399) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:03PM (#39718359)

        I can totally sympathize with this pilot. True story .. I was driving through Yukon a few years ago and I had been on the road for twelve hours that I could barely stay awake so I pulled off in a rest area, climbed in the back seat, and fell asleep.

        At some point, another driver pulled into the rest area and his lights woke me up. All I saw were trees and I thought I had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed in the woods. I panicked. I climed out of my sleeping bag, climbed into the front seat, started my car, and pulled a 360 before I realized what the hell was going on. The other driver probably thought I was nuts.

        Moral of the story ... Thank god I'm not a pilot :)

        • I panicked. I climed out of my sleeping bag, climbed into the front seat, started my car, and pulled a 360 before I realized what the hell was going on. The other driver probably thought I was nuts.

          Oh, I thought that was just your way of saying "hi".

        • by Leebert (1694) *

          and pulled a 360 before I realized what the hell was going on.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL135uL2XZA [youtube.com]

          :)

        • by Smauler (915644) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @11:57AM (#39723549)

          Me and my friend were driving round Europe on holiday when we were 18. We'd got to Munich late, and decided just to park up between 2 cars in a small road in the middle of Munich, and sleep in the car. So, we both got in our sleeping bags, and went to sleep, in the front two seat reclined back almost horizontal.

          The next thing I know, my friend was asking me what the fuck I thought I was doing. We were now parked in the middle of the road, completely blocking it.

          Apparently, I'd just sat up, entered in the 4 digit immobiliser code, started the car, carefully driven the car into the middle of the road, parked and then happily gone back to sleep. This was in a manual car in my sleeping bag. I had absoluteley no recollection of any of this.

          Anyway, I managed to get the car back in approximately the right place (about a foot and a half from the kerb though). My friend did spend a few minutes persuading me that we were parked in the middle of the road in Munich. I had been having a dream that we were in a campsite in Holland, for some reason, and the campsite manager had been telling me to move the car.

          I had been known to sleepwalk a little in the past, but this was my only sleep-drive (that I know of, anyway).

      • by Anonymous Coward

        There was an oncoming aircraft on the same flight path 1000ft below. The FO was visually searching for that aircraft, saw venus, panicked, and put the aircraft nose-down.

        The captain immediately assumed control of the plane and put the plane nose-up.

        The planes were on the exact same flight path thanks to GPS. They were both depending on the 1000ft difference in altitude to prevent a head-on collision. A better idea is for each plane to offset right of the flight path by 1 mile.

      • by Kagato (116051)

        If I was AC I'd be more concerned about the fact they flew a TATL flight with only 95 passengers on a 200 passenger plane. They were already lossing tens of thousands of dollars on the flight as is.

        • Theres always cargo to be carried, plus the aircraft needs to be repositioned for the return flight anyway - some passengers are better than no passengers.

      • by Cyberax (705495) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:11PM (#39719211)

        Have you actually looked at Venus in clear skies? During the closest approach it's bright enough so that people mistake it for a motorcycle _headlight_.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Except when the evasive action puts the plane into the path of the C-17 the pilot thought he was evading. Even after the captain had told him the C-17 was straight ahead and 1,000 feet below. Or the fact that the captain and the C-17 pilots flashed their landing gear lights to acknowledge their position. Go ahead and think its actions are okay just because someone "felt it was necessary."

    • by geekmux (1040042) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:51PM (#39718251)

      Personally, I'd prefer my pilots to take evasive action when they feel its neccessary, and not pick up a habit of second guessing themselves to avoid bad PR. Yes, passengers were injured, but TFA notes that the seatbelt light was on.

      "However, the Air Canada Pilots Association, 'has long pressured authorities to take the stresses of night flying into account when setting the maximum hours a pilot can work,' taking into account that North Atlantic night-flights are hardest on an already-fatigued pilot."

      Personally, I'd prefer my safety authorities actually listen to the men and women doing the damn job, and realize they could have likely prevented this from happening in the first place.

      • by jbwolfe (241413) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:50PM (#39719365) Homepage
        Thank you for seeing it that way. The US government has finally decided to do this and modified 50 year old FTDT (flight time duty time) regulations to be more in line with science and reality. By the end of 2013, pilots will have greater rest requirements that incorporate circadian aspects of physiology- all thanks to pilots unions lobbying efforts.

        http://www.alpa.org/FTDTFightingFatigue/tabid/3370/Default.aspx/ [alpa.org]

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        Here are a few things to note from the Transportation safety board of Canada Report
        1. The FO had two days off before the flight took place.
        2. On the day of the flight he FO reported 8 hours of rest with some child care interruptions before waking at approximately 0600.
        3. The FO took a 2–hour nap in the afternoon before reporting for duty feeling well rested.
        4. Both crew members checked in at the required time of 1935 and the aircraft pushed back at 2109.
        5. The FO started the nap at 0040 (3 hours and 3

    • Personally, I'd prefer my pilots to take evasive action when they feel its neccessary, and not pick up a habit of second guessing themselves to avoid bad PR

      Pilots second-guessing their instruments is a major cause of crashes.

      But I think the bigger problem is that it sounds like Air Canada engaged in a systematic cover-up of this incident, and are only now admitting it because they were outed by the government report.

      • He didn't just second guess his instruments, he also ignored his captain, and did so while impaired. I understand that impaired, groggy state when waking quite well, but he still should have known not to react.

  • Emo Plilips & Pauly Shore star in "High Air"

    Snoozing Pilot Mistakes Venus For Aircraft; Panic, [Injuries] Hilarity Ensues...

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:28PM (#39718095) Journal

    It sounds like the FO was napping, woke up and immediately put the plane into a dive based on a snap judgement, and the Captian (who we presume was not flying the plane or manning the controls) recognized the error and corrected.

    It sounded like nobody was flying the plan (autopilot presumably), but that the FO, who was napping, was actually on the controls. It sounds more like a problem with pilots sleeping while they should be awake and alert. The article was so light it was impossible to actually tell, through.

    • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:47PM (#39718215)
      How I read it was that the FO woke up, Captain was in control. They were communicating with a C-17 that was ahead of and below them. The FO, still groggy, saw Venus directly ahead and misidentified it as the C-17, immediately diving. The Captain was, I guess, able to exert more power on the controls which brought the plane back up out of the dive. And for the record, the nap the FO was taking is in fact legal. But I think it would have had to be the Captain's aircraft while the FO was napping. A pilot always has to be awake and at the controls even with autopilot activated.
      • by swalve (1980968)
        I can see where I might have the same reaction. You are dozing, you start to drift toward consciousness and begin hearing the radio patter about a C-17 being ahead. You open your eyes and see what appears to be headlights and react instinctively.

        While driving at night, I've certainly been fooled by two motorcycles' headlights into believing it was a car that was nearer or farther than the actual motorcycles.

        What I really don't like is the whole sleeping in the cockpit game. If it is legal, it shouldn
        • by Nidi62 (1525137)
          I know that when I am dozing or kind of drifting off, I will almost get a sort of vertigo where I feel like I'm falling. Unfortunately this happened to me mostly in class. It's always interesting to suddenly jerk upright in the middle of a lecture :)
        • by Baloroth (2370816)

          On a 10 hour or longer flight I would personally rather one of the pilots take turns sleeping than both try to stay awake at the same time. The latter is just asking for them to both fall asleep at the same time: the former keeps one of them awake and fully aware at all times (which, if you notice, very much helped in this case). Obviously, both of them shouldn't be asleep at the same time (also, there are generally 3 people in the cockpit, if I am not mistaken, so 2 should be awake at all times).

          • by swalve (1980968)
            If it is a long haul where they need to sleep, then it should be done in separate crew quarters. Or have two crews scheduled.
            • by JoelKatz (46478) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @06:15AM (#39721029)

              We tried that, and the evidence suggests the risks are greater. What happens if you do that is that crew members just say they're fine when they're not. Studies show that giving crew members the option to nap at their stations makes it more likely that they actually *will* nap when they need to and consequently are more alert during critical stages of flight (like approach and landing) where maximum performance of all crew members can make a major life and death difference.

          • I think the subtlety here is "asleep in the cockpit". It's a good thing pilots sleep on long flights. It would be even better if they only entered the cockpit once they are suitably awake again.

            Re 2 vs 3 people: you may be thinking of the "2 pilots and a flight engineer" crew that planes used to have. As far as I know, it is largely just 2 pilots now (on long flights, there may be multiple pairs).

        • by green1 (322787)

          I think you really nailed it in the last line. Sleeping in the cockpit should be illegal. it's just not a good idea. I have no problem with the flight crew taking alternate naps while the other is in control. but don't sleep while at the controls themselves, go somewhere else. Some long haul planes used to have a bunk for that purpose, or even use a different seat (one of the flight attendant ones? or a jump seat? or a spare first class seat? or whatever else, just not one with a yoke in front of it!

          • by Nidi62 (1525137)

            I think you really nailed it in the last line. Sleeping in the cockpit should be illegal. it's just not a good idea. I have no problem with the flight crew taking alternate naps while the other is in control. but don't sleep while at the controls themselves, go somewhere else. Some long haul planes used to have a bunk for that purpose, or even use a different seat (one of the flight attendant ones? or a jump seat? or a spare first class seat? or whatever else, just not one with a yoke in front of it!

            If the other pilot has control of the plane, why shouldn't the other pilot be able to sleep in the cockpit for a short nap? The FO was at the controls, but he wasn't in control of the plane, the Captain was. Have you ever seen or sat in a jumpseat? They are extremely uncomfortable. Often times there aren't any available first class seats (although in longer hops sometimes a seat is blocked off for crew use). And as far as I know, only the 777, 787, (maybe 747), and the Airbus equivalents have actual cr

        • by timeOday (582209)
          This is a super-common cause of car crashes - drifting off to sleep could kill you, but suddenly re-awaking with your car halfway off the road and swerving to get back on the road is what normally kills you.
      • by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @03:20AM (#39720349)

        Here is a quote from the Safety board report;

        Several deviations from Air Canada controlled rest SOP occurred. They included:

                  not advising the cabin crew of the intention to rest;
                  not agreeing in advance on an end time of 40 minutes;
                  not stopping the rest at 40 minutes; and
                  not providing recovery time after the rest.

        If anyone was at fault it was the Captain for not following proper procedure which put the First Officer in the position of making a snap decision while just waking up.

        The FO, still groggy, saw Venus directly ahead and misidentified it as the C-17, immediately diving.

        This is a false statement perpetuated by the posted summary. It sounds like the FO dove to avoid Venus. That is not what really happened. Here is the real sequence of events;
        1. Captain advised FO of approaching C-17.
        2. FO searched the sky and thought he found the aircraft.
        3. The captain corrected the FO that what he say was actually Venus and the other aircraft was dead ahead and below.
        4. The FO found the real aircraft, misinterpreted its movement and dove the aircraft.
        The FO did not dive to avoid Venus; he dove to avoid the other aircraft. Here is the supporting quote from the Safety Report;

        Coincidentally, an opposite–direction United States Air Force Boeing C–17 at 34 000 feet appeared as a traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) target on the navigational display (ND). The captain apprised the FO of this traffic.

        Over the next minute or so, the captain adjusted the map scale on the ND in order to view the TCAS target 5 and occasionally looked out the forward windscreen to acquire the aircraft visually. The FO initially mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft but the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o'clock position and 1000 feet below. The captain of ACA878 and the oncoming aircraft crew flashed their landing lights. The FO continued to scan visually for the aircraft. 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.

    • by Spikeles (972972)
      Maybe read the report [tsb.gc.ca](which was linked in the article) instead of just the news article?
    • by TheLink (130905)

      Read this instead: http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/aviation/2011/a11f0012/a11f0012.asp [tsb.gc.ca]

      At 0155, the captain made a mandatory position report with the Shanwick Oceanic control centre. This aroused the FO. The FO had rested for 75 minutes but reported not feeling altogether well. Coincidentally, an oppositeâ"direction United States Air Force Boeing Câ"17 at 34 000 feet appeared as a traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) target on the navigational display (ND). The captain apprised the FO of this traffic.

      Over the next minute or so, the captain adjusted the map scale on the ND in order to view the TCAS target 5 and occasionally looked out the forward windscreen to acquire the aircraft visually. The FO initially mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft but the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o'clock position and 1000 feet below. The captain of ACA878 and the oncoming aircraft crew flashed their landing lights. The FO continued to scan visually for the aircraft. 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 captain, who was monitoring TCAS target on the ND, observed the control column moving forward and the altimeter beginning to show a decrease in altitude. The captain immediately disconnected the autopilot and pulled back on the control column to regain altitude. It was at this time the oncoming aircraft passed beneath ACA878. The TCAS did not produce a traffic or resolution advisory.

  • by SuperTechnoNerd (964528) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:28PM (#39718097)
    Thank goodness he missed the planet by 67 million miles..
  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:36PM (#39718151)

    Everyone is piling on this guy now, but think about what would have happened if he'd actually HIT Venus - nobody would have survived that! Think, people, THINK!

  • Venus was incidental (Score:5, Informative)

    by cratermoon (765155) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:41PM (#39718177) Homepage
    The media reports are all harping on the idea of "crash dive to avoid Venus", but that's incidential. There was an oncoming aircraft (but not on a collision course) and the FO erred in thinking it was going to collide. Source - TSB report [tsb.gc.ca].
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:57PM (#39718307)

      Mod parent up. Venus had nothing to do with it.

      First officer saw Venus, alerted captain. Captain pointed out that was Venus, pointed to actual oncoming aircraft. First officer misinterpreted altitude of actual oncoming aircraft, dived.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ed_1024 (744566)
        Several points:

        1) It is very difficult, even during the daytime, to work out whether an aircraft is above or below you by looking out of the window. At night, there is often no visual horizon at all, so you are seeing a big expanse of sky with stars/planets/aeroplanes/ships in it with no references to judge their relative positioning.

        2) Pilots are not superhuman. We have the same evolved circadian rhythms as everyone else and suffer from fatigue in the same way. We are diurnal mammals and staying up throu
  • The only danger in this situation had been the F.O. napping for 75 minutes instead of the maximum 40

    And all the people not wearing seatbelts.

  • by IonOtter (629215) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @08:53PM (#39718277) Homepage
  • Could have happened to anyone.

  • by sunfly (1248694) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:04PM (#39718371)

    He did not take evasive action to avoid Venus, but did point to Venus and briefly discussed if it was an aircraft when he first woke up. He later made the evasive maneuver when he misjudged the position of another aircraft. The two events are only connected by the fact the pilot was entirely too exhausted.

  • The "fasten seatbelt" lights are on for good reason: if the airpline suddenly loses altitude, you won't crack your skull on the roof.
    You should avoid spending any time at all without your seatbelts in an airplane because, in some rare occurrences, these drops will happen without any warning at all.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:25PM (#39718529)

    Why not have the pilots take their naps in a separate bunk near the crew compartment. It gives them better rest, and the act of climbing out of the bunk and walking to the cockpit gives them time to help shake off the grogginess.

    Or is it better to have them sleep in their seats so they are immediately ready to step in if needed?

  • Considering that Venus is right now very very bright this is not that surprising. Also Venus is standing unusually high in the sky in evenings.

    Common sense should let people keep their safety belts on anyway.

  • by manu0601 (2221348) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:50PM (#39718695)

    We cannot have laws against sleeping, as it is a natural need. However we could improve safety by giving customers more information.

    For instance, a law could force airlines company to tell customers how many hours a week the pilot worked, and how many flight he did in a row. That would help us avoiding pilots made dangerous by insane airline work policy.

    • by PPH (736903)

      a law could force airlines company to tell customers how many hours a week the pilot worked,

      Right. I think I'll be getting off this plane now. Just pull over right up ahead and I'll catch another ride.

  • by colonel (4464) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @10:15PM (#39718831) Homepage

    Please, please, please -- there are tons of very well-considered safety points in the real report, and the linked articles are very very very wrong.

    http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/aviation/2011/a11f0012/a11f0012.asp [tsb.gc.ca]

    To quote:

    At 0155, the captain made a mandatory position report with the Shanwick Oceanic control centre. This aroused the FO. The FO had rested for 75 minutes but reported not feeling altogether well. Coincidentally, an opposite–direction United States Air Force Boeing C–17 at 34 000 feet appeared as a traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) target on the navigational display (ND). The captain apprised the FO of this traffic.

    Over the next minute or so, the captain adjusted the map scale on the ND in order to view the TCAS target 5 and occasionally looked out the forward windscreen to acquire the aircraft visually. The FO initially mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft but the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o'clock position and 1000 feet below. The captain of ACA878 and the oncoming aircraft crew flashed their landing lights. The FO continued to scan visually for the aircraft. 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 captain, who was monitoring TCAS target on the ND, observed the control column moving forward and the altimeter beginning to show a decrease in altitude. The captain immediately disconnected the autopilot and pulled back on the control column to regain altitude. It was at this time the oncoming aircraft passed beneath ACA878. The TCAS did not produce a traffic or resolution advisory.

  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @10:43PM (#39719031) Journal

    I used to fly my lightplane back and forth from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area to my Los Angeles office on the fourth floor of a building in Hollywood.

    There was an antenna across the street that looked exactly like the profile of an airplane heading toward us. Whenever I was walking down the hall and would glance out the window, I would see that and immediately, uncontrollably, startle. When you see a plane that close you literally have a second or two to make a decision, and it becomes a reflex to act immediately. Now, walking down the hall of a building no reaction is actually called for; but it didn't stop me from jumping!

  • It Worked! (Score:4, Funny)

    by mikeplokta (223052) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:56AM (#39719695)

    The good news is that the evasive action was successful, and the plane did not hit Venus.

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