Tour jet pilot in mid-air collapse

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The Independent Online
THE CAPTAIN of a jet with 121 people on board passed out at the controls in mid-flight after a loss of cabin pressure.

The Boeing 737, packed with holidaymakers, was beginning its descent into Gatwick when a crack in a cargo door caused a sudden loss of pressure. As the captain grabbed for an oxygen mask, he knocked off his glasses and lost consciousness trying to retrieve them, it was revealed yesterday.

The first officer, who had managed to put on a mask in time, called for assistance from a stewardess but she too collapsed. Eventually the first officer manage to revive the pilot with oxygen and landed the aircraft with his help.

The 60-year-old senior officer and four passengers needed hospital treatment for minor injuries but all were saved by the actions of the first officer. The stewardess was revived with oxygen before the plane landed.

Details of the incident, which happened on 13 August last year, were released in an Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report.

The Peach Air charter jet, with 115 passengers and six crew, had been crossing the English Channel on its way back from the Croatian holiday resort of Dubrovnik. A few seconds after air traffic control asked the aircraft to begin its descent, the first officer felt a pressure change in his ears.

He grabbed his oxygen mask but the captain was unable to put on his before losing consciousness. The first officer then issued a mayday call and was given clearance for an immediate rapid descent.

The AAIB report said the captain and crew member might not have realised the speedy effect of hypoxia - lack of oxygen - despite the pilot's RAF decompression training. "Since these two experienced crew members rapidly succumbed to the effects of depressurisation, it is ... possible that neither fully appreciated the nature of hypoxia."

The report blamed the loss of cabin pressure on a damaged aft cargo door of the 24-year-old aircraft, concluding that the cracks must have existed for some 17 years without being noticed by inspection.

Peach Air is operated by Caledonian Airlines and flies out of Gatwick and Manchester to the main holiday resorts.

The AAIB released a second report yesterday into the crashlanding of another plane, which was being handled by a first officer without sufficient experience to deal with difficult weather.

The first officer had been at the controls of the Brymon Airways DHC- 8 travelling from Bristol to Plymouth with nine passengers and four crew on board. As they approached Plymouth the flight crew were told that wind- speed on the ground was 22 knots, with gusts up to 26 knots.

Recognising that the airport was notoriously difficult to land in with cross winds, the captain asked the first officer if he was happy to remain in control and continued to offer advice. However, during the approach the aircraft suddenly lost height and the left-hand landing gear, which was first to touch the ground, buckled, causing the plane to skid along the runway.

No one was injured in the accident, on 28 February, but the aircraft suffered extensive damage. The AAIB report said that the commander should have taken control when he realised the difficult conditions.