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Pilot mistakes Venus for plane, sends own plane into dive

A disoriented Air Canada pilot flying from Toronto to Zurich wakes up from a nap and finds the wrong reason to send the plane plummeting.

Air Canada

We've all driven down a road, looked away, looked back and mistaken a bear for the Abominable Snowman. Or a Toyota Prius for a car.

However, when you're in the air, slight errors of visual comprehension might be magnified.

For it seems that an Air Canada pilot, on his way from Toronto to Zurich, woke up from his scheduled nap and mistook Venus for an oncoming planet. Ah, no, that last "t" shouldn't be there. He thought it was a plane.

So, as CNN dives into it, he pressed the appropriate buttons and levers and took avoiding action. Yes, he sent the plane groundward.

One can only imagine what the poor passengers must have thought -- 14 of them were injured (all in coach), as well as 2 members of the flight crew.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada's report explains that the Boeing 767-333 was halfway across the Atlantic in complete darkness.

The language it uses to describe the dive is very beautiful. It calls the experience "a 46-second pitch excursion," as if this was something everyone had booked months in advance.

"What are you doing for your vacation?"

"Oh, I'm going on a pitch excursion."

"Really? That sounds like fun."

In this particular instance, the captain was expecting a little turbulence. The seat belt sign had been turned on. Moreover, when the first officer woke up -- having slept for 75 minutes -- he reported feeling unwell.

It is not known why he was unwell. However, the report points to him having trouble getting enough sleep, now that he had children.

The captain had warned him that there was a U.S. Air Force C-17 in the area. When the first officer woke up, he saw a bright light in front of him, believed it to be the C-17. The captain told him it wasn't. In fact, the C-17 was below them.

This was, indeed, Venus.

The first officer, though, was unconvinced and initiated the dive. The captain corrected it, but not before passengers and crew began to fly.

The reports declares that there is an inherent risk with every nighttime transatlantic flight. Darkness simply makes pilots sleepy. And when you're sleepy, strange things can happen.

Still, believing Venus is an oncoming plane is the sort of thing that most people only imagine when they're asleep, not when they're awake at the controls of a 767.