• Germany edition
 
Airbus 'nearly crashed' when pilots fell ill
Photo: DPA

Airbus 'nearly crashed' when pilots fell ill

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

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
Expats reveal another side of Berlin Wall
Photo: Paul Sullivan

Expats reveal another side of Berlin Wall

Two expats who walked the Mauerweg - the 160-kilometre trail that runs the length of the former Berlin Wall - have written a book about forgotten aspects of its past and present. READ  

Karstadt closes six stores to stay afloat
Photo: DPA

Karstadt closes six stores to stay afloat

Germany's biggest department store chain Karstadt will close at least six stores, putting around 2,000 jobs at risk, in a drastic bid by its new boss to return it to profit. READ  

Quiz
How well do you know Germany?
Photos: DPA/Shutterstock

How well do you know Germany?

Do you know your Saxony facts from your Saxony-Anhalt ones? Test your knowledge of Germany's federal states in The Local's quiz. READ  

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal
Pollution from a coal-fired power station in Frimmersdorf, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal

The UN's climate chief hailed a European agreement in Bonn on greenhouse gases on Friday as providing "valuable momentum" for a world pact to be inked in Paris next year. READ  

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth
Photo: DPA

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth

Germany will get an early Christmas present of around €779 million from the EU, thanks to weaker than expected GDP growth. READ  

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told
Photo: DPA

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told

It will take several days to find out what caused a massive explosion on Thursday which rocked a town on the Rhine, killing a builder and injuring 26 others. READ  

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'
An NH90 helicopter. Photo: DPA

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'

Germany's fleet of NH90 helicopters is undergoing engineering checks after one of them suffered a serious engine failure, in the latest blow to the country's military capabilities. READ  

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m
Rainer Schwarz at a court hearing in September into the case. Photo: DPA

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m

The man who was blamed for Berlin's miserable attempt to build a new airport must be paid more than €1 million - after being fired. READ  

Steinmeier challenges UN over Isis gas reports
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Kurds watching the attack on Kobane. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier challenges UN over Isis gas reports

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pressed UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to bring possible poison gas use by Isis in Iraq before the Security Council. READ  

Spring back in German consumers' step?
Photo: DPA

Spring back in German consumers' step?

Update: Consumer confidence in Germany has stopped falling, as households appear to be no longer fazed by concerns about the economic fallout from geopolitical crises, a new poll found on Friday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Politics
Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: Huge explosion rocks Ludwigshafen
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
Which high school cliche is your German city?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Storm hits southern Germany
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,533
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd