Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is that a plane?

Sitting on the sands of the Marina Beach in Chennai at night (sadly such occasions are getting to be less frequent ) I like to stare into the distance and watch the planes flying in from over the horizon. Quite a few planes come in at that hour and they – especially the Kolkata, Hyderabad and Delhi flights- cross the beach while approaching the airport.

The fascinating thing about the planes at night is that they would look like small dots of light located many miles away and appear to be stationary. One can easily mistake them for stars till- after a minute or two- they come closer and the movement becomes obvious. It is fun to engage kids with the question, “Is that a star, or is that a plane?”

For me and the kids, it was an idle pastime and no harm was done if we guessed it wrong. Not so with the pilot of an Air Canada plane who, two days back, mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft, and then sent his airliner diving toward the Atlantic to prevent an imaginary collision with another plane. This report from Reuters says:

"Under the effects of significant sleep inertia (when performance and situational awareness are degraded immediately after waking up), the first officer perceived the oncoming aircraft as being on a collision course and began a descent to avoid it," Canada's Transportation Safety Board said.

"This occurrence underscores the challenge of managing fatigue on the flight deck," said chief investigator Jon Lee.

The incident occurred at night on board a Boeing 767 twin engine passenger plane flying from Toronto to Zurich in Switzerland with 95 passengers and eight crew.
So, idle pastime for me. But a matter of life and death when a pilot of a real plane mistakes a planet for a plane or vice versa.

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