Pilot: I kept having urges to crash

Bryan Griffin, a veteran Qantas pilot, had a problem. During flights he experienced overwhelming urges to crash his plane. Once he had to pin his arm behind his seatbelt to prevent himself switching off the engines.

Mr Griffin told colleagues about these episodes, and the airline referred him to a series of doctors and psychiatrists. He received treatment, and leave to recuperate. Doctors declared him fit to fly, and he continued working for another three years.

But his problems multiplied, an industrial compensation tribunal heard this week. He got the urge to cry out in the cockpit. He ignored instructions, and missed radio and altitude calls. In 1982 he resigned after 16 years in the job, suffering from anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Mr Griffin told the tribunal his condition had been exacerbated by continuing to work. His psychiatrist said that Qantas had failed fully to understand his problems, and should have retired him on medical grounds.

During a Perth to Singapore flight in 1979, the former pilot recalled, his hand "involuntarily moved towards the start levers". He "struggled with the uncontrollable limb as though it wasn't mine", and had to restrain it by placing it under his seatbelt. "The force of the arm moving against the seatbelt towards the thrust levers was so much that it made the arm sore," he said. On subsequent flights, he continued to be assailed by repeated desires to crash the plane. En route from Singapore to Sydney, he again felt his hand "being abused by the uncontrollable pull of the start levers".

The Workers Compensation Commission agreed Qantas should not have cleared him to return to work, and awarded him almost £100,000 for loss of earnings, medical expenses and legal costs. The presiding commissioner, Derek Minus, told him the airline had failed to consider "the danger which you brought to passengers flying with you, and the public generally, should you have crashed an aircraft".

The reason for the time lapse before lodging his compensation claim was not immediately clear.

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