Partner of a Pilot
The Candid Diary of an Airline Pilot’s Girlfriend

Air Canada First Officer-Gone Loopy!?

 Air Canada plane 

I am stunned. Today, an Air Canada flight was grounded because the FO apparently had a complete break down in flight…

An Air Canada co-pilot had to be taken to a psychiatric hospital in Ireland after acting strangely aboard a mid-air flight when he “fell ill,” it was reported Tuesday.

Some accounts suggested the unnamed first officer suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be restrained by cabin crew and passengers, including a member of the Canadian armed forces.

Officials are now investigating after the Air Canada Toronto-to-London flight was forced to divert to Shannon, Ireland, on Monday.

The Irish Independent newspaper reported local airport officials as saying the co-pilot had to be forcibly escorted from the flight after he began talking to himself and acting in a “peculiar manner.”

One passenger said the pilot was having a breakdown and calling for God.

Sean Finucane said the co-pilot was bound by restraints and carried into the cabin.

“He was very, very distraught. He was yelling loudly,” he told CBC.

“His voice was clear, he didn’t sound like he was drunk or anything, but he was swearing and asking for God,” Finucane said in an interview from England.

“He specifically said he wants to talk to God.”

A doctor and paramedics boarded the flight to remove the co-pilot, who was transported to hospital and later transferred to the psychiatric ward, the newspaper stated.

An unconfirmed posting to an online air traveller’s forum by an individual who claimed to have witnessed the incident up close suggested that crew and passengers had to restrain the troubled first officer.

The airline refused to confirm details of what happened aboard AC848 which left Toronto’s Pearson International at about 8 p.m. Sunday night and was supposed to land at Heathrow Monday morning.

“As you can appreciate, this is a personnel issue and there are also privacy issues surrounding it,” said Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman, adding that at no time were the safety of the 149 passengers or crew members compromised.

The Air Canada Pilots Association, representing 3,300 members, issued a statement last night saying the co-pilot was being treated in hospital.

“ACPA has sent a fellow pilot to assist in whatever way is required,” it said.

Capt. Andy Wilson, president of the association, said in an interview that although such incidents are rare pilots are trained to deal with a fellow flight crew member falling sick or becoming incapacitated mid flight.

“As we train for many emergencies never seen in a pilot’s entire career, this is just one more that we train for,” he said. “Although it’s a two-pilot aircraft, either one could certainly perform the operation and land the aircraft.”

Air Canada will be reviewing the incident in the coming days, as will Transport Canada and possibly Irish safety authorities. 

Allison Hanes, National Post  Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I am full of respect for the Captain who obviously held his composure in the face of this wildly bizarre and potentially dangerous behaviour.

However, knowing how tough the recruitment process is (in terms of: criminal record checking, and scrutiny of medical records, and psychoanalytical and personality checks) I am shocked that this man slipped through the net.

It’s a wonder that nobody was harmed! I seriously hope that Bf never has to deal with a co-worker this mentally deranged at all, let alone on the flight deck!

I obviously don’t know how dangerous his intentions were likely to be, but the fact remains that he was obviously mentally unstable-yet he had access to a crash axe and a jet full of fuel, and was trusted with the lives of hundreds of people in his hands (and that’s only the ones on board!)

It worries me that someone like this could fly in under the radar and permeate this security obsessed industry. If it was something more recent that triggered his state of mind-were there tale tale signs that were ignored? This industry protects it’s own, and whilst I find that for the most part comforting; it worries me at times. I have actually heard of airlines putting alcoholic pilots (who have had a proven track record for sound flying) through ‘dryout’ rehab, in some circumstances more than once! I do not believe that alcoholism should be tolerated in pilots, and certainly repeat offenders are a concern.

I’ve even heard of one pilot who had been a repeat offender who was breathalysed after crew expressed concerns about flying with him. Although he passed the test, his airline (knowing his alleged past history) insisted on a full liver function test; which he failed, and lost his job as a result. It’s sad that someone so bright and obviously passionate about his career, could knowingly risk it all for alcohol. He was less than 10 years from retirement when he lost his job, which makes it all the sadder.


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