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Sleepy Pilot Puts Plane in Nosedive After Confusing the Planet Venus With Oncoming Aircraft


"It looks like the headlight on an airplane."

A simulation of what the pilot would have saw that night. (ABC)

Embarrassment and relief. Those are probably at least two of the emotions of an Air Canada pilot who sent his plane into a nosedive after confusing the glowing planet of Venus with another oncoming aircraft.

According to ABC News, the mixup occurred because the pilot was sleepy and just waking up from a nap. And while the pilot's relief for not hitting the fictitious plane, that was probably short lived: his nosedive almost led to a collision with a real plane 1,000 ft lower. Additionally, 16 people were injured as a result.

It all happened on Jan 14, 2011 on a flight from Toronto to Zurich. So why are we hearing about it now? Because Air Canada originally blamed the injuries on "severe turbulence." But that was only part of the story. ABC explains:

According to the report, the plane's first officer had been sleeping, as is permitted by Air Canada on transatlantic flights, when he was awakened by the pilot's report of the plane's position.

The pilot indicated that a U.S. Air Force cargo plane was approaching the Air Canada 767-300 at an elevation about 1,000 feet below the passenger jet.

The "confused and disoriented" first officer, however, believed that the planet Venus was the approaching plane, and was coming right at the Air Canada jet. He forced the plane into a dive.

Passengers who were not wearing seatbelts, many of them asleep, were slammed into the ceiling and overhead bins.

Realizing what had happened, the pilot was able to pull the plane out of the dive after it had descended 400 feet. The U.S. military plane passed safely underneath.

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"It looks like the headlight on an airplane," Joseph Rao of the American Museum of Natural History in New York told ABC in explaining Venus. "It's exceedingly bright. It doesn't twinkle, it's not like a star in that it twinkles. It looks like a steady, white spot of light in the sky. In fact we call it the evening star but they really should call it the evening lantern because it is so much brighter than any of the other stars."

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