A few passengers and crew members felt light headed and sick to their stomachs and even lost consciousness during an American Airlines flight from London to Los Angeles. Those affected said they felt symptoms after about two hours into flight when the Boeing 777 was over Keflavik, Iceland. It happened late Wednesday, Jan. 27 but today, Jan. 30 the mystery is still unfolding with the distinct possibility that the illnesses were caused by aerotoxic syndrome. According to The Strait Times, after the serious malaise was reported the pilot opted to take AA flight 109 back to London. The Times printed an email statement from American that said two passengers and several flight attendants had complained of light-headedness during the flight prompting the captain to return to Heathrow Airport. It said there were 172 passengers and 16 crew members on the jet which landed at about 5 p.m. Other news sources reported that the plane was met by paramedics, police cars and firefighters. All the stricken people were checked out by health officials but none of them seemed toned medical attention.
Naturally the aircraft was heavily inspected to try to find the cause of the illnesses. However some industry insiders and news sources covering the situation seriously suspect that the air may have been contaminated with traces of engine or hydraulic fuel which can cause aerotoxic syndrome which is a term introduced in 1999 by Dr. Harry Hoffman, given to the illness caused by exposure to contaminated air in jet aircraft. Read this: Aerotoxic Syndrome: Adverse health effects following exposure to jet oil mist during commercial flights.
The aerotxic organizations says that “In order to have a comfortable environment and sufficient air pressure to breathe at the altitudes at which jet airliners fly, a supply of warm compressed air is required. This is nowadays (with the sole exception of the new Boeing 787) supplied direct from the jet engines and is known as ‘bleed air‘. It is mixed inside the aircraft with recirculated cabin air at a ratio of 50/50. Although some of the air is subsequently recirculated, all of the air originates from the jet engines.Bleed air comes from the compressor section of the jet engine, which has to be lubricated. Jet engines mostly have “wet seals” to keep the oil and air apart, which cannot be 100% effective. Furthermore these seals, like any mechanical component, slowly wear out and their effectiveness gradually declines. This wear can occur more rapidly when the engine is working hard, such as climbing under full throttle. They may also fail suddenly and will then let a significant amount of oil into the very hot compressed bleed air, resulting in fumes and/or smoke entering the cabin.
Airlines and regulators closely monitor such risks, but some pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions are concerned about the health risks of repeated exposure to toxic substances. Four Alaska Airlines flight attendants filed a lawsuit against Boeing last year after they fell unconscious when toxic fumes entered the cabin during a flight in 2013, forcing an emergency landing in Chicago.
Although there are several uncomfortable symptoms, so far it is not a fatal illness however it an cause vomiting, nausea, coughing, loss of consciousness, and more. It was obviously a good move by the AA pilot to return to Heathrow and have the plane checked out with a fine tooth comb.