Pilot thinks planet is oncoming plane

18 04 2012

If you’re afraid of flying, click away now!

Air Canada's mid-air drama over the Atlantic: Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it's Venus!

Still reading? Well, you know that mid-flight feeling – you’ve been in the air for a number of hours, passengers are resting, catching a movie or reading quietly. The cabin lights are dimmed. Every now and then, a flight attendant brushes past.

Imagine, then, that there’s suddenly the most terrible turbulence. The plane is in a steep dive. Your worst nightmare actually happening – terror unfolding as the aircraft judders towards the ocean.

Passengers not wearing seatbelts – many of them asleep – are slammed into the ceiling and overhead bins. Laptops go flying.

When the plane levels out 46 seconds later, the passengers and flight attendants who bounced off the walls are left nursing injuries. You can hardly believe your luck that you’re still alive. Little do you know that a US military plane has just passed underneath – too close for comfort.

No, I haven’t been watching too many episodes of Air Crash Investigation, a programme that has me gripped a little too often. This is based on news reports of an incident that took place over the Atlantic Ocean on an overnight Air Canada flight from Toronto to Zurich on January 14 last year.

At first, it was blamed on ‘severe turbulence’, but what actually happened has just been released.

It seems a sleepy pilot, who’d just woken up from a 75-minute nap, mistook the planet Venus for an oncoming plane and forced his jet into a steep descent – nearly causing a collision with the real plane flying 1,000 feet lower.

The first officer, who was permitted to nap on transatlantic flights, had been awakened by a report that the US Air Force cargo plane was approaching at a lower altitude. Confused and disorientated, he saw Venus and thought it was the other jet heading straight towards them – hence the terrifying dive.

In the co-pilot’s defence, Venus was surprisingly bright that night – a groggy pilot could easily have mistaken it for another plane, say astronomers. Not only does the planet ‘not twinkle’, it looks like a steady, white spot of light in the sky – more like a lantern than a star, and very similar to the headlight on an airplane.

Every time my DH goes to work, I always tell him, ‘Don’t land in water’ – not that I think he ever will (I never worry about him flying – I honestly think the drive to the airport on a 12-lane highway is more dangerous, and, besides, my fears tend to focus on more subliminal things like a crashed tanker sending our compound up in smoke). But by calling out these words, it’s a sort of knock-on-wood precaution, I guess.

Next time, though, I might be tempted to add, ‘And don’t forget darling, Venus doesn’t twinkle (and nor will she come into the cockpit to serve you coffee!).’ Don’t you think it would help if I had my very own Swarovski diamond to illustrate the difference, eh, DH? After all, they practically grow on trees in Dubai!








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