British Airways captain forced to put on oxygen mask and land plane alone after co-pilot falls ill

Helen Coffey
Mayor of London, five local authorities and environmental campaigners Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are challenging the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow: Getty

A British Airways captain had to put on an oxygen mask and land a flight alone after his first officer fell ill due to suspected fumes in the cabin.

The incident occurred on a BA flight from Athens to London when the plane was just four nautical miles from the UK capital.

The captain radioed the control tower when his co-pilot was unable to continue flying the A320 jet to request an immediate landing at Heathrow Airport.

Both he and the first officer donned oxygen masks in case the latter’s illness was due to a “fume event”.

Fume events on aircraft can be caused by various things, including an oil leak, burnt food in the oven, aerosols and e-cigarettes, strong-smelling food in cabin bags and de-icing fluid.

The captain landed the flight safely at 8.25pm on 2 January. The plane was then grounded for 48 hours while the airline investigated.

BA reported nearly 300 fume events in 2019; the Air Accident Investigation Board (AAIB), a branch of the UK government, is currently investigating this latest incident.

A BA spokesman told the Independent: “The captain landed the aircraft safely, and customers disembarked as normal.

“As the first officer was feeling unwell, he was seen by an airport paramedic as a precaution, before going home.”

They added: “We always encourage our colleagues to tell us about any concerns they have, with reports passed onto the Civil Aviation Agency. Safety is our first priority and every report is thoroughly investigated, with typically 151 engineering checks before an aircraft is cleared to continue flying.”

British Airways also emphasised that all pilots regularly train to land planes by themselves and are therefore prepared for such scenarios.

“An incident was reported to the AAIB and we are investigating,” an AAIB spokesperson told the Mail Online. “When our investigation has concluded we will publish a report.”

This is the latest in a line of fume events on aircraft.

In October 2019, a transatlantic flight had to divert to Ireland when crew members were reportedly left unconscious mid-flight.

American Airlines flight 729, which was flying from London Heathrow to Philadelphia, had to make an emergency landing in Dublin due to what the airline attributed to the smell from a “spilled cleaning solution” in the plane galley.

However, a BBC investigation cast doubt on cleaning fluid being the cause.

“Records show part of the aircraft had been leaking oil prior to the flight,” said the BBC.

Several passengers complained of burning eyes and itchy skin, while two crew members and one passenger were taken to hospital for evaluation.

The airline refuted the BBC assertions. An American Airlines spokesperson said: “We take cabin odour issues seriously and have devoted extensive efforts over time, including working with aircraft, engine and auxiliary power unit manufacturers, to address these types of concerns.

"The odour that was detected by our crew on 21 October was not related to the APU, as the APU – including bleed air from the APU – was not operational during this time period and did not operate during this flight."​

Read more

British Airways plane plagued by mysterious fumes on five flights