SAS Braathens: “We have had toxic gas aboard aircraft”

SAS pilot has permanent health problems following gas incident on flight deck in 2000.

•Please contact me if you have knowledge of any kind about toxic fumes in aircraft, e-mail [email protected].

(Dagbladet.no:) Dagbladet.no has recently shown how passengers and crew are exposed to toxic fumes as a result of oil leaks in aircraft engines. British aviation authorities have confirmed that this represents a safety hazard. Norwegian-registered aircraft have also been affected.

“There is no doubt that we have experienced such incidents, though they are very uncommon,” says Håvard Vestgren, Flight Manager in SAS Braathens, to Dagbladet.no.

The airline is now going through its own report archive to obtain an overview of the number of incidents involving cabin air aboard airliners.

“Still under investigation”
A 40-year-old SAS captain was seriously injured and can never fly again after being exposed to an unidentified toxic gas on the way from Gardermoen to Paris in September 2000, as reported in Dagbladet on 7 April 2003.

“This episode in the autumn of 2000 is still under investigation. We take a very serious view of this type of incident. Under normal circumstances oil should remain in the bearings of the engines and should not get into the cabin air. The aircraft and engine manufacturers have a clear responsibility in this respect,” says Håvard Vestgren. He has himself been a pilot for 20 years without experiencing alarming incidents connected with gasses in the air supply of aircraft.

Norwegian pilot permanently injured
10 September 2000 at 2.45 p.m. Over the Skagerrak, en route from Oslo Airport Gardermoen to Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, with 54 passengers on board:

After five minutes in the air, the co-pilot noticed a smell resembling that of burning electrical wires or insulation. No smoke was visible.

Both pilots felt unwell and summoned the cabin crew. The purser entered the flight deck and also noticed the acrid smell.

The captain decided to return to Gardermoen. Both pilots put on their oxygen masks, but after a while the captain took his off because he wanted to be aware of any changes in the gas smell and because of condensation in the mask.

When they commenced the descent the smell disappeared, but after about ten minutes it became strong again.

The co-pilot still had his oxygen mask on, but the captain, without a mask, felt confused and dizzy, so he put his mask back on and transmitted a distress signal. The aircraft made an emergency landing at Torp Airport at 2.55 p.m.

The cabin crew were advised that an emergency evacuation of the aircraft might be necessary, but this was cancelled because the gas odour disappeared just before the landing.

“The captain felt unwell after the incident. His general state of health deteriorated and he was granted sick leave on the grounds of fitness. After some time he was declared incapable as a pilot on medical grounds, resulting in loss of licence,” according to the report of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board.

Oil smell not reported
The Flight Manager in SAS Braathens states that when pilots or cabin personnel notice oil smells during flight, this is not necessarily reported.

“For a report to be submitted, the crew has to have noticed physical discomfort in addition. Odours in aircraft can have many causes, for example a collision with a bird,” Vestgren points out.

The airline Norwegian has experienced the development of odours in connection with electrical components which have become warm. The airline has routinely reported such incidents to the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority. However, Norwegian says that no reports have been received about oil vapour from aero engines.

“Our aircraft are of the type Boeing Classic Series B737-300, which is on the list of the most vulnerable aircraft types in Dagbladet.no’s article,” says Anne Grete Ellingsen, PR and Information Manager in Norwegian.

According to the BBC, an American Airlines flight had to make an emergency landing in Dublin this morning when the pilot reported smoke with an unusual odour on the flight deck.