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Dead BA Pilots 'Victims of Toxic Cabin Fumes'Salem-News.com
TWO of British Airways’ most talented pilots have died after complaining of years of exposure to toxic oil fumes on board passenger planes.
(LONDON) - Karen Lysakowska, 43, was buried last Tuesday, while Richard Westgate, also 43, was laid to rest four days before.
Both believed they had been poisoned by the toxic oil fumes that can contaminate cabin air and which regularly forces pilots to don oxygen masks in order to breathe.
Lawyers for Mr Westgate now want to “give him the trial he never got” by suing the airline in a case they say will be a “moment of truth” for the aviation industry.
They say they are on the cusp of proving in a court of law the existence of “aerotoxic syndrome”, a chronic physical and neurological condition they predict will one day be seen as “the new asbestos”.
Thousands of pilots are currently “unfit to fly”, one specialist doctor believes.
Official records from the Civil Aviation Authority show that oxygen masks are being donned by pilots and crew at the rate of at least five times a week to combat suspected “fume events”.
In some cases, crew members have passed out yet in almost all incidents, passengers are unaware.
The air enters the cabin unfiltered via a bleed pipe off the jet engine where any oil leak at high temperature can cause the release of a dangerous mix of compounds, including potentially toxic organophosphates.
Those most at risk are pilots, cabin crew, other very frequent flyers and people who are genetically susceptible to the toxins.
A suspected three per cent of people are most vulnerable due to a genetic make up that renders their bodies less resistant.
Many pilots complain of headaches and other symptoms but they are often ignored or misdiagnosed.
Ms Lysakowska, who was one of the most talented pilots of her generation, having been given a special award as a cadet 20 years ago, had pleaded with her bosses at BA to address the issue after being grounded with ill health in 2005.
Writing to them in 2006, she warned: “My objective is to get well and carry on flying and not enter a protracted legal battle because of the impact exposure to contaminated air has had on my life but if I have to I will.”
However, she later developed cancer and the legal battle never took place.
Meanwhile, Mr Westgate, who was not married and had no children, also fell into the high risk category, his specialist aviation medic Dr Michel Mulder believes.
He died on December 12 in Amsterdam where he was being treated.
He had been there since last April after diverting to the Dutch city while en route to Swiss suicide clinic Dignitas, having given up all hope of finding a cure for his illness.
“All he wanted to do was fly,” Dr Mulder said.
However, it was a passion that slowly killed him.
Driven and ambitious, he was also a world record-breaking paraglider, a sport in which his talent was recognised only last August when he was given an award by ex-Royal Navy pilot Prince Andrew.
Richard had become a commercial pilot in 1998, flying with smaller airlines before joining BA in 2007, but he voluntarily grounded himself in 2011 after suffering whiplash in a car crash.
However, Dr Mulder said by that time he had already become concerned about his health and memory, suffering persistent headaches, chronic fatigue, loss of confidence and mood swings.
Like many pilots, according to Dr Mulder, who himself flew for KLM and who suffered similar symptoms, Richard failed to tell his employer for fear of losing his job.
And also like many others, he sought private medical advice to avoid any blemishes on his health record.
Dr Mulder said: “He was a very talented athlete but he had lost his sharpness. It had gone. He said to me, ‘I’m dying’. It was very sad.
“He had been losing the ability to multitask, which is obviously important when you’re flying a plane.
“He was misdiagnosed with depression. So many pilots are misdiagnosed because there is so little awareness of aerotoxic syndrome.
“Some of the symptoms are like the early onset of Parkinson’s Disease or MS.
“There needs to be an understanding of this but it’s wilfully not recognised. The airline industry knows how huge the implications would be.”
He said Richard was beginning to make progress in his care but he then suffered a fall in which a head injury caused his neurological problems to deteriorate.
He died last month and was buried in the Dorset village of Shillingstone on January 18.
His family are now awaiting the results of two autopsies in Holland.
However, before he died he had instructed his lawyer, Frank Cannon, who was also a pilot, to sue BA for alleged breach of health and safety guidelines.
Mr Cannon said BA is liable under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations because it fails to monitor the quality of air on board planes.
Despite calls from many pilots and the Aerotoxic Association, BA and all other airlines do not install air quality detection systems.
Instead, they rely on the results of disputed Government commissioned studies, the most recent of which by Cranfield University, Buckinghamshire, concluded in 2011 that cabin air was safe.
Mr Cannon is now trying to force a groundbreaking British inquest into Richard’s death in which BA would be asked questions about aerotoxic syndrome.
Mr Cannon said: “I see this as an impending tsunami for the airline industry—it’s been hushed for and ignored for so long.
“We hope to use the inquest to give Richard the trial he never got. It would be the first judicial recognition of his condition.”
A spokesman for BA said: “Our thoughts are with the families of the two pilots at this very sad time and we offer our sincere condolences.
“We are not aware of any legal claims relating to the two individuals.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment or speculate upon the individuals' cause of death." Doctor 'finds sheep-dip link' to cabin air issue THE effects of toxic fumes on pilots are similar to the symptoms suffered by farmers working with sheep dips over many years.
The link is the dangerous organophosphates that are contained in dip chemicals and the oils used to lubricate jet engines.
The Sunday Express has spoken to the medic who discovered the link in the late Nineties.
Hertfordshire based Dr Peter Julu is Europe’s only autonomic neurophysiologist and he believes it is the lack of experts in his field which is preventing full recognition of the condition by the medical profession at large.
Dr Julu found the link after treating a Lufthansa pilot who had been referred to him by a neurologist.
He said the airline believed the pilot was “faking” the symptoms as a way of suing for compensation.
The German pilot used his contacts in the UK airline fraternity, then several others asked to see Dr Julu with similar symptoms.
Airlines tried to argue that carbon monoxide poisoning was causing the symptoms but Dr Julu, who also had experience of those problems, disagreed.
He said: “It was very strange. At that time, I was also doing some work on sheep dips for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Source: The Express
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