A pilot's recovers his health after stopping flying the BAe 146, only to receive a more devastating blow following a fume event in his new job on a different aircraft.
I have always enjoyed excellent health - or rather I did, until shortly after I started flying pressurised aircraft for a living.
The first pressurised type that I flew was the BAe146. I noticed that the aircraft was quite smelly (the so-called 'dirty socks' smell) particularly in the mornings, but since it was clear that this was regarded by the more experienced crews as normal, I thought nothing more of it.
To begin with, I remained in excellent health. However after around 18 months on type I gradually started to become unwell.
At first I attributed my symptoms to the demands of my roster, the unsociable hours and so on, and attempted to remedy matters by using up accrued holiday to rest and recuperate.
This was not successful and as my condition deteriorated it became clear that I was developing a medical problem. At the time I suspected it was a viral infection of some kind.
My symptoms included a sore throat, headaches, aching joints, constant fatigue and tiredness, muscular weakness, hot/cold flushes, a slight giddiness and light headedness, an inability to concentrate and difficulty with even simple tasks and poor short term memory. Overall, I became mentally much less sharp and this resulted in a decreasing ability to meet the demands of my work.
Many times it was my unhappy duty to report sick, as I felt I was unsafe to continue operating the aircraft, on which the safety of sometimes more than 100 passengers and crew depended. Often this would be at times and in locations which were inconvenient to my employer.
Whilst recovering at home my symptoms would diminish, however on returning to work I would frequently suffer a relapse.
This situation was extremely frustrating to me, especially as I was on the verge of a command that I strongly wanted.
This was not to be and eventually I was dismissed from my employment after less than three years on type - a promising career cut short due to illness.
After this point I became aware that my problems might have been caused by exposure to poisoned cabin air, though I was not able to prove this and so had no recourse.
At no time had I been warned by my employer, BAe or the CAA that the BAe146 is a high risk type from the perspective of crew and passenger health.
Over the next few years my condition very gradually improved, to the point where I eventually felt well enough to fly light aircraft once again as an instructor, which I found less demanding than airline flying.
My health continued to improve and a couple of years later I secured a position as a First Officer. This meant flying pressurised aircraft once again.
With an awareness of the cabin air problem I had selected this company as its aircraft were all nearly new machines and I felt that if indeed my problem had been caused by toxic cabin air that the chance of a repeat was negligible in such modern equipment.
At this time my understanding (incorrectly as it turned out) was that the problem was more or less confined to a small number of older types.
I completed all ground and flight training without problems. However, a short time after being released on line, I experienced an in-flight malfunctioning of the cabin air system.
The cabin became filled with visible fumes and the captain and I had to make an emergency landing. The passengers were terrified.
Some hours after the incident, I began to feel very tired and within a few days I noticed I was developing a disturbingly diverse range of symptoms.
These developed to the point where I was unable to report for work, and included a constant feeling of tiredness, fatigue and drowsiness, needing more sleep than usual, a feeling of constant head pressure and headaches, making frequent errors of co-ordination, lacking concentration, being easily distracted, memory problems, word finding problems, severe muscular weakness and lack of stamina, hot and cold flushes, feeling giddy and nauseous, diverse aches, and at times a grey, sallow appearance and an unpleasant body odour.
It is now more than a year since I became unwell again; my symptoms have not resolved and I have not been able to work. I have undergone numerous medical tests, and while some are inconclusive, others do support the view that my problems originate from an exposure to contaminated cabin air.
I have also made contact with a considerable number of similarly affected aircrew and even some passengers and it is very striking how similar the profile of symptoms is in affected individuals.
It is also interesting how similar this set of symptoms is to those that I previously experienced, and further adds to my suspicion as to the true cause of the medical problems of those afflicted.
It is also worth noting that a common factor among pilots is the crushing disappointment of having a professional career abruptly and prematurely terminated.
Many of us have made huge personal sacrifices to become professional pilots.