A sleepy Air Canada first officer who was waking up from an approved cockpit nap initially mistook the planet Venus for a C-17 and is being cited for a wild ride that hurt 14 passengers and two flight attendants on a flight from Toronto to Zurich in January of 2011. Canada's Transportation Safety Board issued a report Monday that suggests pilot fatigue was behind the FO's decision to throw a Boeing 767-300 into a dive and send unbelted passengers and flight attendants to the ceiling. Seconds later, the flight's startled captain yanked back on the yoke and ensured an uncomfortable return trip for the affected people in the back. Most suffered bumps, bruises and lacerations from their unscheduled contact with aircraft fixtures. Everyone on the back side of the bulletproof door thought turbulence was to blame and some weren't happy to learn a year later that the turbulence was pilot-induced. "No one came on for an announcement and said, 'This is what happened, but everything's OK, or there might be some more turbulence up ahead,'" passenger Ashlyn O'Mara told CBC News.
Air Canada allows flight crew members to nap in the cockpit with the approval of the other pilot. The TSB says the FO woke up after 75 minutes of slumber (40 minutes is the norm) when the aircraft's TCAS noted a C-17 dead ahead and 1,000 feet below. The FO initially thought Venus was the approaching military aircraft but the captain told him the cargo plane was below them. The pilots flying on both aircraft flashed their landing lights as they approached one another and the TSB says the FO saw the other aircraft and, "interpreted its position as being above and descending towards them." The altitude excursion was 400 feet. What happened next caused what passengers called "chaos" in the cabin and led to an expedited landing in Zurich with medical units rolling. The TSB noted that many of the unbelted passengers were sleeping across unsold seats. The injured flight attendants were in the galley and the lav. The TSB did not issue any recommendations but the report does cite studies of the effect of overnight trans-Atlantic flight on people from North America who are used to sleeping at night and working during the day. "Night flights from North America to Europe have an inherent risk of fatigue for North Americanbased pilots. Most of these pilots fly a small number of nighttime legs per month and revert to sleeping at night when not working," the report said. "The circadian system of pilots who fly only a small number of nighttime legs will not adapt to working at night and these pilots are likely to display performance decrements during the nighttime legs in spite of any countermeasures."