My husband began his flying career with eleven years in the RAF on Hastings and C-130, followed by fifteen years on a corporate B737 based in Switzerland. After that he decided he would like to experience airline flying and returned to the UK, spending eighteen months on the F27 before transferring to the BAe146 at the end of 1990. He spent two years on this aircraft and then converted on to the F-100.
"All I want is my health back"
His health was always very good and he kept fit skiing and walking when in Switzerland and going to the gym when he returned to England. All went well until he joined the BAe146 fleet and he started getting severe headaches. Whenever he returned home his uniform would have a very strong "aircraft" smell. He said that the standard procedure for the first flight in the morning was to burn off all the engine oil that had accumulated in the air conditioning packs overnight, before the passengers came on board. He has no recollection of any specific fume events but the 146 always had that distinctive smell.
In 1992 he started flying the F-100, however the headaches continued. Then he started having brief spells of light headedness and breathlessness. He gradually became more and more tired until all his time off was spent recovering before the next spell of duty. He had an ECG and all was normal but his blood pressure started to fluctuate. He still managed to pass his aviation medicals with no problems being found. The tiredness was put down to long flying hours.
The symptoms increased very gradually over the years until around 1999 he started to have memory problems and became rather depressed. In August 2001 during a simulator check he could not see one of the instruments so took himself off to an aviation doctor who suggested he was suffering from depression brought on by overwork. He had six months off work and was prescribed an antidepressant which made him even worse. A CAA doctor also said it was just depression. As he was only a year from his 60th birthday he decided to take early retirement.
He was not happy with the diagnosis of depression so there ensued visits to various specialists who suggested Alzheimer's and possibly epilepsy. I found it incredibly frustrating that so many doctors had no idea of what was going on, and it was the chance reading of a letter in the BALPA Log magazine that raised the possibility of poisoning by toxic fumes. In 2006 he had various tests that proved this was probably the cause of all his problems.
He was given no opportunity to keep on his medical insurance when he left his company which I feel was wrong as he had no chance of taking out a new policy with all his problems. We were fortunate that we could afford to fund the investigations, but I'm sure there are others who are not so lucky. BALPA has been of no help - it is only thanks to Tristan and Susan (GCAQE) we've made any progress. I can't see much chance of my husband ever receiving any compensation for what has happened to him, but as he says, all he wants is his health back!
From being a fit and active person who loved his chosen career he is now, at the age of 65, unable to read or write, has memory problems, is very bent and unsteady on his feet, still has headaches and needs constant care because the effect on his vision means he has difficulty recognising his surroundings. Thank goodness his sense of humour is unaffected!
I think your setting up of the Aerotoxic Association will help many people in the future. Thank you!
This testimony in German