We’ve seen an increase in fume related incidents on commercial flights. In some cases this impacts the crew, in other cases it impacts passengers, and in some cases it impacts everyone. This has led to all kinds of diversions.
Well, AvHerald has the rundown of what’s possibly the most terrifying fume related incident we’ve seen in quite a while.
This incident involves BA2676 on October 19, 2019. This was a British Airways A320 operating a flight from London Gatwick to Paphos in Cyprus.
The plane was descending through 8,000 feet to 6,000 feet when the first officer noticed an unusual odor in the cockpit (which he described as smelling like onion bajhis… yum!), and even asked the captain if he smelled it. The captain said he didn’t smell it.
Just 30 seconds later the first officer felt his arms and legs tingling and had the impression he was about to faint, so he put on his oxygen mask and set the oxygen level to 100%.
He then turned to the captain to tell him he wasn’t feeling well, but when he did, there was no response, as the captain was incapacitated. After a couple of seconds the captain reacted slowly, saying he didn’t feel well either, and he also put on his oxygen mask and turned the oxygen level to 100%.
During this period the pilots missed several calls from ATC to descend to 4,000 feet, since obviously their primary focus was making sure they could safely operate the plane.
Since both pilots had oxygen masks on they couldn’t talk to one another, so they communicated with hand signals, as the captain flew the plane while the first officer went through the checklist, operated the levers, etc.
The plane landed safely 13 minutes after the trouble started, and the crew opened the cockpit windows as soon as they landed.
The captain went to the lavatory after landing, and the first officer went into the cabin to make sure everything was okay. While everything in the cabin was alright, the flight attendant noticed how pale the first officer was, and noted that there was a strong smell of fuel when the cockpit door opened.
The pilots were hospitalized and were diagnosed with low blood oxygen saturation and fever. The pilots ended up flying back to London the next day as passengers. The plane returned to London Gatwick the next day, about 27 hours after it landed in Paphos.
The plane in question has the tail number G-GATL, and it’s 17 years old, and it first flew for ACES Colombia, then Wizz Air, and then British Airways as of 2015.
It’s also interesting to note that on October 2 the plane diverted to Athens due to smoke in the cabin, and on October 17 the plane diverted to Porto while enroute to Marrakech. The fourth flight after that was the flight that ended up having this issue.
With these kinds of incidents becoming more common, you sure have to wonder what exactly is going on. Hopefully the severity of this situation leads to a more thorough investigation.
Kudos to the pilots for being so observant and aware, or else this could have ended very differently…