An investigation into the 120 m plunge of an Air Canada aircraft above the North Atlantic last year has found that the cause was pilot fatigue. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada report, which describes the 46 seconds when the plane dived and then pulled back up, says that the first officer was suffering from “sleep inertia” intensified by fatigue.
The aircraft’s co-pilot was “confused and disorientated” after waking from a nap. Pilots are allowed controlled 40-minute periods of sleep, but he had slept 75 minutes. He misunderstood a radio message that a US Air Force plane was flying towards them on a collision course, and mistook bright light from the planet Venus for the other aircraft. The co-pilot then steered the plane into a dive, overriding the auto-pilot.
Of the 103 passengers and crew on board the Toronto-Zurich flight, 16 were injured. None were wearing seatbelts even though the seatbelt light was on.
As a consequence of the incident, the Air Canada Pilots Association has called for overnight eastbound flights to have a third pilot on board.
BBC / SkyNews
[pictured: Venus photographed on March 31st, 2012; photo by Professor Jimmy Westlake / NASA]