• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Airbus 'nearly crashed' when pilots fell ill

The Local · 28 Sep 2012, 10:21

Published: 28 Sep 2012 10:21 GMT+02:00

The budget airline Germanwings was accused on Friday of deliberately playing down the incident so that no investigation was launched for a year, by which time the black box and cockpit recorder information were no longer available.

Friday’s Die Welt newspaper worked with public broadcaster NDR to dig up reports on the incident which could have ended in catastrophe – and yet was reported to the air safety authorities in such a harmless manner that no investigation was undertaken.

But pilot association Cockpit on Friday accused Germanwings of "irresponsible downplaying" of the incident.

Flight 753 from Vienna to Cologne on December 20, 2010 was starting to land when first the co-pilot and then the pilot became cripplingly nauseous and barely conscious, the report says.

“You land the bird, I can't fly anymore,” the 26-year-old co-pilot told the 35-year-old captain before reaching for an oxygen mask. His arms and legs had gone numb and he had the feeling he could no longer think clearly.

Yet as he took the controls, the pilot felt tingling in his hands and feet, began to get tunnel vision and became badly dizzy – all this as the plane began decending at more than 400 kmph.

A medical examination afterwards showed the captain had a blood oxygen level of around 70 percent, while that of his co-pilot was less than 80 percent. Healthy people have a blood saturation level of nearly 100 percent, while 70 percent is close to the level at which people pass out, Die Welt.

The co-pilot wrote in his report that the plane would have crashed into the ground in Cologne with 144 passengers and five crew – and eight tonnes of fuel. The captain said he was in fear for his life.

Yet they managed to land the plane without incident, and accompanied by emergency teams, it taxied off the runway and came to a halt, whereupon passengers watched as the two men were driven in an ambulance, said Der Spiegel magazine.

Although Germanwings submitted a report to the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Investigation (BFU), the incident did not appear in the BFU’s monthly bulletin and no further action was taken. Experts now believe this is because Germanwings – a subsidiary of Lufthansa – downplayed the event to avoid investigation.

Die Welt said that it was only a year later that experts received new information and started looking into what had happened – by which time no information from the black box and cockpit recorder remained.

A spokesman for Germanwings told Die Welt there had been no problem and the pilots had not suffered any reduction in their capacities.

But the paper said it had seen a medical report from Lufthansa referring to an examination of the co-pilot six months after the incident, which said he was fully capable of service – after six months of being incapable. He had undergone weeks of counselling.

Story continues below…

It is though the bad air may have been due to de-icing fluid getting into the cockpit’s air supply.

Contaminated cabin air was scheduled to be discussed by MPs in the lower house of parliament on Friday afternoon.

The Local/jcw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

17:48 September 28, 2012 by hanskarl
No surprises here. On a recent transcontinental flight on an Airbus the cabin air was so terrible I begged the stewardess to have the pilots increase the exchange of cabin air with outside air. They hate to do it as it makes the planes less efficient in cruise and therefore Euros in operating costs. Notwithstanding, Lufthansa had us packed in like cattle. It was the first time I had ever experienced oxygen deprivation in flight apart from the occasional gastric relief of other passengers nearby.
21:09 September 28, 2012 by Dr.D.11
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
00:33 September 29, 2012 by The-ex-pat
17:48 September 28, 2012 by hanskarl

No surprises here. On a recent transcontinental flight on an Airbus the cabin air was so terrible I begged the stewardess to have the pilots increase the exchange of cabin air with outside air. They hate to do it as it makes the planes less efficient in cruise and therefore Euros in operating costs.-----------

Not sure what movies (Macgyver probably) you have been watching, but it is IMPOSSIBLE to increase or decreases the the amount of air that enters the fuselage. The only thing that can be altered is the temperature. The amount of air in the cabin is a direct result of maintaining around 8000 feet of equivalent outside value air pressure in the cabin during the flight. You are correct though, cabin air is exchanged with "outside" air, bleed air from the engines, but that is also a fixed non adjustable amount. As I said, cabin air is a direct reflection of the required amount of pressurisation in conjunction with aircraft altitude. Most probably, the cabin temperature had been increased if it was a long flight as this especially after a meal makes most passengers sleepy.............and means the cabin crew get a bit of a break (but you did not hear that from me............)

PS before you disagree I am a licensed engineer or Boeing, Air Bus and Bombardier aircraft...........
09:37 September 29, 2012 by nota LAME
@Hanskarl:

I do disagree. I suggest your explanation omits some detail.

Whilst the rate of bleed air input to the cabin may be fixed, the outflow rate is variable. The flight-deck crew still have control over choosing the cabin altitude. This being achieved by controlling the rate at which air escapes the cabin via the outflow valves. Thus the pilots might select a cabin alt. of anywhere between 5-8000ft and the outflow valves are regulated automatically to maintain the selected alt. Therefore, for a lower selected alt. air escapes the cabin at a lower rate to achieve the selected pressure altitude and a lower alt. has greater relative air pressure, hence more fresh air (or a greater concentration of oxygen) in the cabin.*

All of which is academic in the case of contaminated air to the extent of the crew affected in this instance. Oxy masks and expedited landing is what you need in such a situation.

* Disclaimer: Studied this a while back. Nothing new about how it's done (unless the laws of physics have changed recently).
10:21 September 29, 2012 by The-ex-pat
The crew do not select anything other than the landing elevation so that the cabin pressure elevation reached ground level at the same time as the aircraft and the cruise altitude. The rest of the time they do not touch it. It is computer controlled system. They set it and then do not touch it again. But as you say, academic.

However what is interesting, the crew get their air from the same supply as the passenger. Why were the passengers not effected in the same way as the crew??
Today's headlines
 'One dead and two injured' in Germany machete attack
News channel NTV said there were scenes of panic in the city centre following the attack. Photo: DPA

A 21-year-old Syrian asylum-seeker killed a woman and injured two people with a machete Sunday in the southwest German city of Reutlingen in an incident local police said did not bear the hallmarks of a "terrorist attack".

Munich gunman planned attacks for one year: officials
Vigils continue in Munich to commemorate the victims, seven of whom were teenagers. Photo: DPA

The teenage gunman who killed nine people in Munich on Friday had been planning his attack for a year, according to German authorities.

Germany grapples with enigma of Munich gunman
A debate is already underway as to whether Germany's gun laws, which are already strict, should be tightened further. Photo: AFP

Investigators were seeking clues on Sunday into the mind of gunman David Ali Sonboly, the teen author of one of Germany's bloodiest killing sprees.

Munich shooting
 Social media a blessing and a curse in Munich shooting
The Munich gunman may have hacked a Facebook account to lure some of the victims to the McDonald's fast-food outlet where the shooting began. Photo: DPA

Social networks were both a curse and a blessing in the deadly shopping mall shooting in Munich, as police sometimes found themselves chasing fictitious leads and false alarms.

Munich shooting
Munich pulls together after shopping mall shooting
Photo: DPA

In the chaos after the Munich mall shooting, city residents spontaneously offered shelter to strangers - a move that Chancellor Angela Merkel said showed that Germany's strength lies in its values.

Munich shooting
Merkel deplores 'night of horror' in Munich
Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said Munich had suffered a "night of horror" after a shooting spree in the southern German city left nine people dead.

Munich shooting
Munich attacker was shy video game fan
People laying flowers at the site of the shootings. Photo: DPA.

David Ali Sonboly was a quiet, helpful teenager who loved playing video games. His neighbours say there were no warning signs before his deadly rampage at a Munich shopping mall.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman inspired by rightwing Breivik: police
Photo: DPA

The lone teenager who shot dead nine people in a gun rampage in Munich was "obsessed" with mass killers such as Norwegian rightwing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik and had no links to the Islamic State group, police said Saturday.

Munich shooting
Turks, Kosovans and a Greek among shooting victims
Photo: DPA

Three Turkish citizens were among the nine people killed in Germany's Munich mall shooting. Three Kosovans were also among the nine victims.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman was likely not Isis terrorist: police
Flowers laid at the Olympia Shopping Centre underground station. Photo: DPA

According to initial investigations by Munich police, the young man who went on a shooting rampage in Munich on Friday evening was a lone gunman without motive, not a terrorist.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Analysis & Opinion
Nice was an attack on France, not on Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
10,782
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd