Thursday, November 20, 2008

Air Canada flight attendant praised after taking over for incapacitated co-pilot

Air Canada B767-300The bad news: Last January an Air Canada pilot, working as First Officer on a trans-Atlantic flight, had some sort of 'emotional breakdown' while on the flight deck. He was physically removed from the flight deck by other crew members and had to be restrained in the passenger cabin until the aircraft landed and he was taken to a hospital.

The good news: A Flight Attendant, who happened to be a licensed pilot, took over the First Officer's seat and assisted the Captain during descent, approach, and landing. The unnamed Flight Attendant was praised in the report of the official investigation of the incident.

The details: On January 28, 2008, an Air Canada Boeing 767-333 aircraft (registration C-FMXC), operating as Air Canada Flight AC848, was 36,000 ft above the Atlantic Ocean en route from Toronto to London when the First Officer began to behave in a peculiar manner. According to a report issued today by Ireland's Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), the First Officer "became belligerent and uncooperative which convinced the Commander he was now dealing with a crewmember who was effectively incapacitated." After trying unsuccessfully to reason with the man, the Captain called the Incharge Flight Attendant to the flight deck, first as a witness to the First Officer's behavior, and ultimately asking the Incharge Flight Attendant to "secure the First Officer away from the flight controls, then with the help of other crew members, remove him from the cockpit."

The Flight Attendants managed to get the First Officer into a seat in the passenger cabin, where he was restrained for the rest of the flight. They recruited two passengers who were medical doctors to help look after the disoriented pilot.

Meanwhile, back on the flight deck, the Captain consulted with Air Canada dispatchers, and decided to divert to Shannon. Quoting from the AAIU report (re-paragraphed for easier reading):
After making a PAN (distress) call, Shannon ATC were informed that the medical emergency was due to a pilot incapacitation (the First Officer) and the flight was now a single pilot (Captain only) flight for descent, approach and landing.

Prior to descent, the Commander asked the Incharge Flight Attendant to go [through] the Passenger Information List (PIL) to see if there were any flight crew on board who might be available to assist on the Flight deck for the remainder of the flight.

In the event no line pilots were on board, but one of the Cabin attendants held a Commercial Pilot’s Licence, with a Multi-engine Rating, and a non-current Instrument Rating. The Commander requested that the Flight Attendant occupy the right-hand (First Officers) seat for the remainder of the flight to assist as necessary.

The Flight Attendant provided useful assistance to the Commander, who remarked in a statement to the Investigation that she was ‘not out of place’ while occupying the right-hand seat.

As the descent was commenced the Passengers were informed that an early descent was to be made and diversion to Shannon due to a medical emergency. The descent, approach and landing were uneventful. The aircraft landed at 07.19 hrs and parked on Stand 39 at Shannon at 07.23 hrs.
The AAIU report concluded that the Captain and the entire crew handled the incident very well. The Analysis section of the AAIU report ends with this paragraph:
Incapacitation of a member of flight crew is a serious incident. The onset of subtle incapacitation is sometimes difficult to detect, and then in all probability more difficult to deal with. The Commander realising he was faced with a difficult and serious situation used tact and understanding and kept control of the situation at all times. The situation was dealt with in a professional manner, employing the principles of Crew Resource Management (CRM). As such the Commander and Flight Attendants should be commended for their professionalism in the handling of this event.
Congratulations to the crew for their expert handling of what must have been a very stressful situation. Special applause to the Flight Attendant who temporarily took over the First Officer's position and apparently did a fine job.

I wonder if she got to officially add a little B767 time to her pilot logbook. I hope so.

Here is the link to the entire report: Serious Incident: Boeing 767-333, C-FMXC, Oceanic Reporting Point MALOT, 28 January 2008: Report No 2008-027 - AAIU (Ireland), Nov. 19, 2008 (5-page 'pdf' file)

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