Co-pilot shackled to seat after outburst
TU THANH HA AND BRODIE FENLON
From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
January 29, 2008 at 10:38 PM EST
Yelling, crying and invoking God, the co-pilot of an Air Canada flight from Toronto to London had to be forcibly removed from the cockpit of his jetliner after suffering an emotional collapse as the plane flew over the Atlantic.
Shackled by the wrists and ankles, the shoeless first officer had to be restrained by crew members with the help of a traveller who was a member of the Canadian Forces.
Left alone in the cockpit, the captain cut short the journey of Flight AC 848 by diverting to Ireland’s Shannon airport.
Meanwhile, the first officer was crying and screaming as he was cuffed on a free seat, said a Toronto-area man whose wife was sitting nearby.
It was a bit of a traumatic experience for the woman, who was travelling with a toddler, her husband said last night.
The co-pilot was taken by ambulance to a psychiatric ward after the plane and its 146 passengers landed on Monday morning.
At no time was safety compromised, Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said.
It was the second time an Air Canada flight ended prematurely in recent days. This month, a jetliner carrying 83 passengers from Victoria to Toronto made an emergency landing in Calgary after turbulence threw it out of control.
It was also a reminder of the 1999 EgyptAir flight that plunged into the Atlantic. Black-box recordings raised speculations that the crash occurred because co-pilot Gameel Al-Batouti was suicidal.
Pilots don’t automatically undergo psychiatric assessments when they have their medical checkups, a federal official said yesterday.
The doctors who do the checkups are general practitioners approved by Transport Canada, said Transport Canada spokeswoman Lucie Vignola.
A psychiatric evaluation is not done unless the GP decides a pilot needs to see a specialist, she said.
Commercial pilots undergo medical checkups every year, every six months if they are over 40, said Captain Andy Wilson, president of the Air Canada Pilots Association.
At Air Canada, pilots are checked by company doctors, he said.
After his co-pilot’s removal, regulations would have required the captain to don his oxygen mask and land at the nearest suitable aerodrome, said Yvan-Miville Deschnes, a former flight controller.
It’s standard procedure. When there’s only one person left in the cockpit, he puts on an oxygen mask in case the cabin depressurizes, he said. Continuing to London would have been a security breach.
Passenger Sean Finucane told CBC News that the co-pilot, who said he just wanted to talk to God, was yelling loudly but didn’t sound intoxicated.
When they tried to put his shoes on later, for example, he swore and threatened people. He was swearing and asking for God, and was very, very distressed.
His account matched those in the Irish Independent and in the online forum flyertalk.com.
The Independent said the co-pilot, who was acting in a peculiar manner and was talking loudly to himself, was held down by the crew and by a member of the Canadian Forces.
It was quite an experience! He was being restrained in 12A and the entire mini-cabin could hear the whole thing. Not for delicate ears, a writer posted on flyertalk.com.
The soldier and the doctors [who were passengers] were great.
The writer added that the flight crew was calm and professional throughout. The pilots’ union also commended the crew for its handling of the incident.
AC 848 was supposed to land around 8:25 a.m. at London’s Heathrow Airport. However, an hour before arrival, controllers at Shannon Airport were told the flight was diverted because of illness with a crew member, said spokesman Eugene Pratt.
An employee at Ennis General Hospital, near Shannon, said the crew member was taken to the acute psychiatric care unit.
Passengers were given 15 euros for food but were kept at the airport, said the man whose spouse sat near the cuffed co-pilot.
My wife was stranded there with a baby. They wouldn’t even allow her to take the stroller off the plane.
In the afternoon, a crew from London picked up the passengers, who arrived at Heathrow eight hours late.