BA captain sends mayday alert and wears oxygen mask to land plane as co-pilot is ‘overcome by fumes’


A BA captain sent a Mayday alert and wore an oxygen mask as he was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow after his co-pilot was overcome by suspected fumes while at the controls, MailOnline can reveal. 

The evening flight from Athens was four nautical miles from London when the first officer, who was flying the plane, fell ill.

As he could no longer function properly, the captain was forced to take over and raise the alarm in the final stages of the flight.

The incident is the latest in so-called ‘fume events’ involving flight crew on a BA passenger jet and the Air Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) is investigating. 

A BA captain sent a Mayday alert and wore an oxygen mask as he was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow after his co-pilot was overcome by suspected fumes while at the controls, MailOnline can reveal

A BA captain sent a Mayday alert and wore an oxygen mask as he was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow after his co-pilot was overcome by suspected fumes while at the controls, MailOnline can reveal 

The evening flight from Athens was four nautical miles from London Heathrow when the first officer, who was flying the plane, fell ill. As he could no longer function properly, the captain was forced to take over and raise the alarm in the final stages of the flight 

Almost 300 ‘fume events’ were reported on BA flights last year and almost 100 cases of alleged ‘aerotoxicity’ are being brought against the airline.

In this latest incident, the first officer had been declared fit to fly before embarking the A320 jet in the Greek capital for the four hour flight on January 2.

While bringing the plane into its final approach to Heathrow, he complained about feeling unwell.

A spokesman for the airline denied claims made by BA insiders that the first officer had actually fainted and was slumped over the control column as the plane was about to land. 

The captain immediately took charge, radioed the control tower and both he and the first officer put on breathing masks.

Within two minutes – at 8.25pm – the A320 aircraft had landed and was then grounded for 48 hours while BA investigated.

The first officer was met by medical staff, assessed and then allowed to go home while cabin crew and passengers remained unaware of the drama taking place in the cockpit.

BA admitted that the officer had fallen ill, the alarm was raised and oxygen masks were used but would not say what caused him to feel unwell.

However they said ‘fume events’ could be caused by a variety of reasons such as burnt food and e-cigarettes – even though these are banned on board.

MailOnline understands the captain put a breathing mask on himself and the first officer as they came into land on January 2. Within two minutes the A320 aircraft was on the ground and then grounded for 48 hours while BA investigated

MailOnline understands the captain put a breathing mask on himself and the first officer as they came into land on January 2. Within two minutes the A320 aircraft was on the ground and then grounded for 48 hours while BA investigated 

Almost 300 'fume events' were reported on BA flights last year and almost 100 cases of alleged 'aerotoxicity' are currently being brought against the airline. Aviation experts said the most probable cause of a fume event is a broken seal or maintenance issue oil leak

Almost 300 ‘fume events’ were reported on BA flights last year and almost 100 cases of alleged ‘aerotoxicity’ are currently being brought against the airline. Aviation experts said the most probable cause of a fume event is a broken seal or maintenance issue oil leak

BA said it was standard practice for pilots to put on oxygen masks if they fear their breathing has been compromised by potentially dangerous odours that affect their ability to fly the plane.

A BA spokesman said: ‘The Captain landed the aircraft safely, and customers disembarked as normal. 

‘As the First Officer was feeling unwell, he was seen by an airport paramedic as a precaution, before going home.’

An AAIB spokesman said: ‘An incident was reported to the AAIB and we are investigating. When our investigation has concluded we will publish a report.’ 

The airline is being sued by almost 100 staff who claim their health has been affected by the fumes from the engines that are said to smell like old socks. 

Aviation experts say the most probable cause of a fume event is a broken seal or maintenance issue oil leak.

Oil for aircraft engines contains an additive called tricresyl phosphate, or TCP, that helps reduce wear on the engines. It is a toxin that can smell like old socks and causes nausea a vomiting to anyone who inhales it.

BA is currently fighting a class action against former staff who claim their health has been affected by continued exposure to toxic fumes or aerotoxicity. The case is being spearheaded by the family of BA pilot Richard Westgate, 43, who took his own life in 2012

BA is currently fighting a class action against former staff who claim their health has been affected by continued exposure to toxic fumes or aerotoxicity. The case is being spearheaded by the family of BA pilot Richard Westgate, 43, who took his own life in 2012

His family say his ill health caused by toxic fumes led him to self medicate and contribute to his death. BA have denied any liability in Mr Westgate's death and the High Court case is ongoing

His family say his ill health caused by toxic fumes led him to self medicate and contribute to his death. BA have denied any liability in Mr Westgate’s death and the High Court case is ongoing

In April 2017, a coroner overseeing an inquest into Mr Westgate's (left) death ruled his overdose was accidental, but heard evidence that a post-mortem revealed damage to his heart and nervous system, which his family say were signs of his exposure to aerotoxicity

In April 2017, a coroner overseeing an inquest into Mr Westgate’s (left) death ruled his overdose was accidental, but heard evidence that a post-mortem revealed damage to his heart and nervous system, which his family say were signs of his exposure to aerotoxicity

In its legal action Unite – which represents cabin crew – claims pilots and crew are exposed to frequent ‘fume events’ that can lead to chronic ill-health and life-threatening conditions.

Howard Beckett, from Unite, said: ‘The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of aircrew at risk.’

The case is being spearheaded by the family of BA pilot Richard Westgate, 43, who took his own life in 2012 from an overdose of sleeping pills.

His family say his ill health caused by toxic fumes led him to self medicate and contribute to his death.

In April 2017, a coroner overseeing an inquest into his death ruled his overdose was accidental, but heard evidence that a post-mortem revealed damage to his heart and nervous system, which his family say were signs of his exposure to aerotoxicity.

BA have denied any liability in Mr Westgate’s death and the High Court case is ongoing.

The BA spokesman said: ‘We would never operate an aircraft if we believed it posed any health or safety risk to our customers or crew. 

In its legal action Unite - which represents cabin crew - claims pilots and crew are exposed to frequent 'fume events' that can lead to chronic ill-health and life-threatening conditions

In its legal action Unite – which represents cabin crew – claims pilots and crew are exposed to frequent ‘fume events’ that can lead to chronic ill-health and life-threatening conditions

BA said: 'We would never operate an aircraft if we believed it posed any health or safety risk to our customers or crew. Research by the European Aviation Safety Agency concluded that the air quality on board aircraft was similar or better than that observed in normal indoor environments'

BA said: ‘We would never operate an aircraft if we believed it posed any health or safety risk to our customers or crew. Research by the European Aviation Safety Agency concluded that the air quality on board aircraft was similar or better than that observed in normal indoor environments’

‘Research commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency in 2017 concluded that the air quality on board aircraft was similar or better than that observed in normal indoor environments.

‘Safety is our first priority and every report is thoroughly investigated, with typically 151 engineering checks before an aircraft is cleared to continue flying.

‘Fume or odour events have been found to be caused by a wide range of issues, including burnt food in the oven, aerosols and e-cigarettes, strongly-smelling food in cabin bags, and de-icing fluid.’

  



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