Pilot sends jet into nosedive after dozing off, report reveals17/04/2012 - 10:56:49
A dozing airline pilot sent his jet into an emergency dive when he woke and mistook the planet Venus for an approaching plane, a report has revealed.
The manoeuvre caused 16 injuries among passengers and crew on the transatlantic flight.
America’s Transportation Safety Board described the 46 seconds in which the plane dived and lurched back up during an overnight Air Canada flight from Toronto to Zurich in January 2011. Those hurt were not wearing seatbelts.
The plane’s first officer was napping during a rest period aimed at combating pilot fatigue when the captain’s report on their position woke him.
At the same time, a US Air Force plane was approaching about 300 yards below. That set off cockpit alerts, which the captain mentioned to the first officer.
The “confused and disoriented” co-pilot at first mistook the planet Venus for the approaching plane, the report said. When he did spot it, he thought it was coming straight at them. He overrode the auto-pilot by forcefully pressing on the control column, pushing the jet into a dive.
Fourteen passengers and two flight attendants among the mostly 103 sleeping people aboard slammed into parts of the plane, getting cuts and bruises.
The captain regained control as the US military plane passed safely and returned the plane to its cruising altitude.
“This occurrence underscores the challenge of managing fatigue on the flight deck,” Jon Lee, the investigator in charge, said.
Seven of the injured were treated in hospital on arrival in Zurich three hours later.
The investigation found that the first officer, who had been asleep for about 75 minutes, was suffering “sleep inertia” magnified by fatigue.
The report said flight crews were not following standard procedures for “strategic napping,” which is normally of 40 minutes duration. Pilots are supposed to have 15 minutes after a nap to awaken properly before taking control, according to safety protocols.
Air Canada said it had already taken steps to address the fatigue issues. Pilots who feel they are too tired to fly have to report it, and a non-punitive system allows them to withdraw from assignments.
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