Did British Airways Pilots Richard Westgate And Karen Lysakowska Die From Cabin Fumes?

British Airways pilot Richard Westgate

Eight years ago, British Airways pilot Karen Lysakowska hung up her wings due to ill health. She begged management to look into the issue of fumes in the cockpit, which she felt may have made her sick. Lysakowska even considered legal action, but she developed cancer, reports the British paper, The Mirror, and gave up the crusade. Last week, she died.

That might have been the end of that saga. But another British Airways pilot, Richard Westgate, above, died last month, a year after grounding himself. And he advised his lawyers to sue the airline for violating health and safety guidelines. They say "aerotoxic syndrome" could be the "new asbestos."

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The Aerotoxic Association, founded in 2007 by a group of airline workers who say that their careers ended prematurely because of the syndrome, claims that 30 airline pilots are currently grounded because of the condition (the original figure published in this article was significantly higher, but we could not verify it).

There have been several reports of passengers being affected too. On a Swedish flight a few years back, the pilot allegedly found the travelers in a "zombie-like condition," reported The Independent, and a businesswoman who claimed that she breathed in noxious fumes during a flight between Washington D.C. and San Diego, said that once home she experienced respiratory irritation, shaking, insomnia and memory loss. The doctors called it a "mysterious illness."

On most airplanes, the warm compressed air that both crew and passengers breathe comes straight from the jet engines, where it's possible for oil to contaminate the supply. The leakage can create "a wet dog" or "sweet oily" smell, and even visible haze or smoke.

In a 2007 report, the U.K. Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food acknowledged that these "fume events" occur on one in every 100 flights, but The Aerotoxic Association says many aircraft experience this contamination every time they're airborne. Exposure can lead to fatigue, blurred vision, shaking, vertigo, seizures, memory loss, headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulties, cognitive problems and respiratory failure.

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"I see this as an impending tsunami for the airline industry -- it has been hushed and ignored for so long," Westgate's lawyer, Frank Cannon, told The Mirror. He believes the airline is liable because it doesn't monitor the air quality on its planes. But no airline does, The Mirror reports, since a government-backed 2011 study found that cabin air was safe.

A British Airways spokesman said that it would "be inappropriate for us to speculate on the causes of their deaths," and that the airline was not aware of any legal claims.

Westgate's family is currently awaiting the result of two autopsies.


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Babayaga

When a baby is subjected to a total of 50 hours airflights between the age of 4 months and 8 months ( no obligation... only to suit its parents whims) and is suffering from severe recurrant ear infections and nasty colds,would I be right in assuming this condition has been triggered by its immature breathing system being exposed to severe pollution and pressurised cabin air?
A very concerned granny.

March 22 2013 at 3:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Researcher

As independent researcher and having researched air pollution pathways I feel able to offer a possible way to push this forward.
There are limits to practical filtration and particles below effective filtration size can still have health impact.

If a cancer link is suspected then spectaral karyotyping will isolate chromosomes and with fluorescent dye show chromosomal aberrations. Also testing for de novo mutations will show environmental factors

March 18 2013 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gloria

If you think Melissa`s story is shocking,, a month-ago my bro actually earned $7326 sitting there a fifteen hour week from their apartment and they're classmate's sister`s neighbour was doing this for four months and errned more than $7326 in their spare time at there pc. the tips at this site... Great60.com

February 02 2013 at 4:20 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
flychic537

Actually the pressurised air in an airplane comes directly from the outside atmosphere and NOT the engine. Key word is pressurised. The air is too thin to breath up there but if run through a compressor (Air Conditioning Machine) this is of course no longer true. Not for nothing this is called "life support" in aircraft maintenance.
The laws of thermodynamics state that compressing a fluid (the air) will cause it to warm up. If they do use engine bleed air to heat this air nowadays I'm sure good engineering practice would dictate some kind of heat exchanger to isolate these two air sources. When I worked on planes the bleed air was used just for starting the engines and wing de-icing systems for crummy-weather operation(s). Of course that was some time ago, before I retired.....do not recognise the aircraft cockpit so I cannot tell what type aircraft.
Just like in your car, if you get stuck in a traffic jam on the ground your ventiliation system can suck fumes in from another vehicle. If you're behind a real stinker this can permeate the cabin, and until the air clears (it will) it will be a major nuisance. I wonder if that could be it?

January 30 2013 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jeffwitt912

what

January 30 2013 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
richp22627

Jet engine aircraft (commercial) are not heated with engine exhaust. The are pressurized and conditioned (heated/cooled) with bleed air from the jet engines. This is the hot compressed air bled off the engine before the fuel is injected and burned. At 30,000 feet the outside air temp is approximately -35 degrees F and the engine bleed air is approximately 200 degrees C. The hot air is run through a pre cooler (out side air passing over a heat exchanger) to cool it down, then it runs through a filtering sock to remove any debris/smell before it enters the cabin. If the system has been compromised with oil/fuel/hyd fluid you'll definitely know it.....Not the best system, but they've been using it for years....BTW I'm an aircraft mechanic with many year experience with Air Conditioning PACKs.

January 30 2013 at 10:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to richp22627's comment
M

I used to be a frequent flier a lot for a job, and one strong memory is the smell of jet fuel fumes on the uniforms of the flight attendants and the occasional pilot I sometimes walked behind. (BTW, I am a non-smoker.) Working in any environment, people soon get used to aromas and smells, and no longer notice them.

On one occasion, I was seated on the starboard side in front of the engine, and I saw a technician put oil in it before takeoff. Before taxiing away from the gate, the idling engine had a white vapor coming out of the FRONT of the running engine! Halfway through the flight, the pilot all but stood the aircraft on one wing and headed back to DFW where we landed and changed planes, then went on to the "old" Austin, Texas airport. As we were changing aircraft, the pilot used the PA to explain that the instruments abruptly showed a total loss of engine oil pressure, and while they didn't believe the instruments were correct, flight rules required both engines operational for the reverse thrusters to stop on the short Austin runway... (if not, there was a chain link fence and about a 20 foot drop to the golf course awaiting a "rolled out" aircraft).

Fumes? For a long time diesel engine fumes were believed to be harmless until several buildings HVAC systems pulled in delivery truck's exhaust, and shut down the buildings!

March 19 2013 at 7:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
plaingbuck

The airlines or the govrnment will pay who ever is performing the autopsies and that will be the end of it. money grubbing ___ holes.

January 30 2013 at 10:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ebneila

Admittedly, I'm no aeronautics engineer, but if the article is correct; aircraft cabins being heated directly from engine exhaust -- is not a safe method. Jet engines are not 100% efficient in burning fuels. Some fuel contaminents are bound to get into cabin heating ducts. There should be an indirect heat exchanger to prevent engine exhaust from mixing with cabin air. Automotives engineers have known heating a car by engine exhaust can kill with carbon monoxide fumes

January 30 2013 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ebneila's comment
gfwhell

The air supply which keeps the plane pressurised is mostly obtained from forward facing vents,at high altidudes it has to be significantly heated before entering the body of the aircraft, this done by passing the air through heat exchangers designed to reclaim heat from the exhaust of the engines these heat exchangers are made of thin high quality metal capable of transmitting exceedingly large quantities of heat over a high temperature gradient to the flow of the planes air supply. a \"small crack\" in the surface of the heat exchanger would account for significent contamination and could go unnoticed on routine inspection.At high altitudes the O3 content may be high and although the air would normalize back to O1 that may not happen untill it is half way through the main cabbin, The air change in a high level flight has to be fairly rapid in order to maintain temperature comfort levels.

January 30 2013 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to gfwhell's comment
richp22627

REALLY! And what aircraft have the type of system that you have described installed? I've worked on Boeing/Airbus and Douglas aircraft and none have had this type of system....I know a Piper/Cessna (small aircraft) will run ambient air around and exhaust system to heat it before it enters the cabin for cabin heat. Most of those aircraft will have a carbon monoxide detector installed to alert you before you become overcome......Your last sentence is somewhat correct....the air is changed, and that is controlled by an outflow valve which maintains cabin pressure (cabin altitude) to no more than 8.9 PSID (around 10,000 - 12,000 feet).

January 30 2013 at 10:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
flychic537

Actually if I recall right the very act of compressing the air heated it up. The function of the heat
exchanger was to provide a means of temperature control by REMOVING excess heat. The air conditioning conditioning machines (ACM; that's what they were called) or as another fellow has called them, Air Packs, were not therefore heated by the bleed air. The major use of the "blleed air", taken off the engine compressor, was for wing anti-icing and engine starting. I do not recall it being used to heat the cabin, though. But I'm retired, and things could be done differently now in the on-going pursuit of increasing efficiency. Another post told of the exhaust heaters used in small aircraft. These were fitted over the exhaust manifold to extract heat for the cabin and structural integrity is of course very important. There was a similar system in use for the original VW bug I think. In case of leaks CO poisoning was a definite hazard so there's good reason to have a functioning detector. I'm a bit baffled by the source of fumes in this case though.

January 30 2013 at 11:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
robbhoek

All electronic equipment emits toxic fumes. Not only the components, but also the insulation material and the material of the control panels do emit these fumes when subjected to heat. It is worse more so when people are confined to a small compartment like a cockpit with poor air circulation. Ever sit too close to a monitor for a long period and notice the smell similar to that of burning insulation? No matter how small the electronic gadget is, it does emit an amount of heat and fume. Ever inhaled the fumes of burning rubber or insulation material? It does not necessarily have to burn, just get hot to the point where it begins to soften and becomes pliable. Try it and see what you think of it. People working in plastic extrusion and molding may be very familiar with it.

January 30 2013 at 4:54 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
cainhd

Pilot experience: 13 years USAF and 28 years major airline. Airline management is a blood sucker. Aircraft suppliers same. Today's pilots are ill trained. Computer cockpits require minimum smarts. Military pilots can FLY. School trained are not allowed enough hand flying to become good pilots thus remain "airplane drivers", with difficulty in thinking ahead.
U.S. Airline Management fights employees so emps. hate the company. Mechanics need to be given more latitude in perfecting possible problems rather than the "If it ain't broke.don't fix it.". When an Airline goes into bankruptcy and deletes all employee pension plans but cuts the CEO a 19.7 million dollar bonus, well Mr. Public, there you go.

January 30 2013 at 3:14 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cainhd's comment
deerpal

Most people don't realize that if a company dumps their pension plans going through bankuptcy...like United did...the pensions go into a Government program, to be paid ... And more and more companies are doing that.. And guess who is paying for these dumped pension plans ? You...the taxpayer...do... !! Then, like with United, they award a big bonus to the CEO for getting the pensions off the books...giving even more money to the CEO's and stockholders...

And we wonder where all our money is going ?? SUCKERS !!!

January 30 2013 at 8:57 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to deerpal's comment
flychic537

Well if the pensions go into a government fund then that pays for them right? But I agree about the corporate greed, it seems to reward this kind of bad behaviour with a bonus. That's just wrong.

January 30 2013 at 11:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

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