Air Canada Pilot Mistook Venus for Another Plane, Sent Jet Into Nosedive
But the 103 passengers aboard Air Canada flight 878 were not feeling the love on January 14, 2011, when they were jolted awake by a case of mistaken identity.
Venus, one of the brightest objects in the night sky, hoodwinked the fatigued pilot, who mistook the planet for another plane and angled the Boeing 767 sharply downward to avoid what he thought was an imminent collision.
The Canadian Transportation Safety Board released a report on the incident on April 16, 2012, detailing the chaos that ensued on the overnight flight from Toronto to Zurich, Switzerland, carrying 95 passengers and eight crew members. According to the report, the plane’s first officer was disoriented from a long nap that he had just awoken from when the pilot told him that a cargo plane from the U.S. was heading straight toward them.
"The FO (First Officer) initially mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft but the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o'clock position (straight ahead) and 1,000 feet (305 meters) below," the report said. "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 flight plummeted about 400 feet, the report said, before the captain yanked the control column and brought it back up. The C-17 cargo plane passed beneath them. Back in the economy cabin, passengers who were not strapped in found themselves jolted up toward the ceiling, laptops and glasses flying. Two crew and 14 passengers were injured, seven of them taken to a hospital upon landing in Zurich.
Venus, which has been shining brighter and brighter each night and spent this weekend hovering in the sky for up to five hours longer than usual, was not necessarily doing any special tricks on that day more than a year ago. But the planet is known for her luminosity, being second in brightness only to the moon.