An Air Berlin Airbus A320-200, registration D-ABNT performing flight AB-2191 from Las Palmas,CI (Spain) to Leipzig (Germany) with 179 passengers and 6 crew, was enroute at FL340 about 80nm south of Nantes (France) when the first officer became incapacitated after fumes had been noticed on the flight deck prompting both flight crew to don their oxygen masks. The captain diverted the aircraft to Nantes for a safe landing on runway 03 about 15 minutes later. The first officer was taken to a hospital.
The occurrence aircraft remained on the ground for 18 hours, then positioned to Munich (Germany) and remained on the ground in Munich for another 18 hours before resuming service.
The airline did not comment on the occurrence.
Germany’s BFU confirmed they are aware of the occurrence and are in touch with the French BEA, who is going to investigate the occurrence.
Following our first coverage (as seen above), which was taken over by a number of other media, Air Berlin contacted Austrianwings on Apr 5th 2016 stating, that their report – based on ours – was incorrect. Air Berlin stated in this unsolicitated mail, that the crew heard a hissing sound in the cockpit, as a precaution donned their oxygen masks and diverted to Nantes, both crew remained fit throughout and continued duties. Austrianwings confronted us with this statement. Although we had full confirmation of our narrative by the statement by the BFU with no response arriving from Air Berlin to our initial inquiry (and we were not the only media organisation not receiving a reply to inquiries on this occurrence), we therefore decided to deepen our research into the occurrence.
While we were still in the process of research, Austrianwings followed up with another coverage and responded to Air Berlin pointing out that witnesses confirmed the events as described, even passengers appeared to have been affected by the fumes event. Air Berlin again responded pointing out their initital statement and adding, that the first officer left the cockpit on his own.
We were able to establish contact with 4 additional witnesses beyond our initial source until Friday, Friday Apr 8th 2016 thus became one of the most hectic days in The Aviation Herald’s editorial office in recent years. Following the interviews with the witnesses we also rechecked with our initial source confronting the initial source with the statements by Air Berlin.
Our initial source, which had pointed out a good number of incidents previously and had never been inaccurate even in details, maintained the sequence of events as reported.
The Aviation Herald learned from a second independent witness, that the first officer had established contact with medical services specialized on fume events, but in the meantime was flying again.
A first passenger stated, that the flight appeared uneventful until the passenger noticed the aircraft was descending before time. The captain announced, clearly speaking through an oxygen mask, that they had problems with the breathing air and were diverting to Nantes. After landing a number of fire engines and ambulances surrounded the aircraft, two paramedics rushed to the cockpit, a short time later the first officer, accompanied by the two paramedics and appearing more carried than supported, left the cockpit and was taken away by an ambulance.
A second passenger reported that already upon entering the aircraft the passenger noticed the aircraft had been refurbished with new interior and an according smell was around, plugs to connect earphones were missing and listening to the inflight video thus was not possible. The flight was pretty much uneventful although the cabin air became more and more sticky. Then there was an announcement by the captain, which the passenger could not fully understand annotating he might have felt tired and may have been inattentative already, perhaps as result of the sticky air. However, the passenger noticed that the voice of the captain sounded like “Darth Vader” (known from “Star Wars”). The aircraft landed in Nantes which became known to the passenger only through the labels at the fire engines surrounding the aircraft. A number of persons entered the aircraft, the attention of the passenger however turned to another passenger who appeared to be in pain and upon questioning commented he was suffering from a renal colic. The passenger therefore did not take notice of any further events surrounding the cockpit.
A third passenger reported that there were no anomalies until the captain announced: “Wir haben Probleme mit der Luft, wie Sie an den Geräuschen hören können.” (translation: we have problems with the air as you can hear by the sounds) The aircraft diverted to Nantes, the captain indicated a technician would now come aboard. Two persons entered the aircraft, the passenger working in a medical profession recognized a doctor with his assistant, and rushed to the cockpit. A short time later the passenger noticed a fellow passenger with bright red head, obviously in pain, and talked to the fellow passenger, who reported suffering from renal colics for several years already and therefore carrying according medication at all times, a visit to the lavatory was necessary to take the medication. The lavatory however was blocked at that time due to the events surrounding the cockpit. About 40 minutes after landing the French doctor, who had rushed to the cockpit after landing, arrived and indicated he wanted to assist the sick passenger with oxygen, the reporting passenger translated the problem to the French doctor in Latin, access to the lavatory was made possible and the sick passenger finally was able to take the medication. The reporting passenger stated to have been focussed too much on the sick passenger to notice what further happened around the cockpit.
On Friday, Apr 8th 2016, we confronted Air Berlin’s Senior Vice President Communications directly with those statements, also verbalizing our puzzlement that our inquiries remained unanswered and even the unsolicitated information was never sent to us even though Austrianwings clearly referenced us as source of their report, and within a few minutes received a first reply acknowledging the receipt of the e-mail and asking for time to establish the details. On Monday morning Apr 11th 2016 The Aviation Herald received a statement of Air Berlin in German, which we publish in its full length (editorial summary in English in the following):
im Folgenden haben wir für Sie einen Bericht verfasst, der die Vorfälle am 2. April 2016 auf dem Flug AB2191 detailliert beschreibt. Alle Verantwortlichen, insbesondere auch der Kapitän und der Erste Offizier haben daran mitgewirkt und bestätigen die hier beschriebenen Geschehnisse. Wir hoffen, dass wir Ihre Fragen damit im Wesentlichen damit beantwortet haben.
In diesem Zusammenhang ist uns noch wichtig, darauf hinzuweisen, dass uns direkte Anfragen von Ihrer Publikation Aviation Herald an unsere Pressestelle nicht bekannt waren. Würden Sie das bitte noch einmal intern bei sich recherchieren. Es ist grundsätzlich nicht unser Stil, auf Anfragen nicht zu reagieren, es sei denn, es liegen besondere Gründe vor. Wir hätten selbstverständlich auf Ihre Anfrage reagiert.
Flug AB2191 von Las Palmas nach Leipzig ist am 2. April 2016 mit 179 Gästen und 6 Crewmitgliedern an Bord in Nantes zwischengelandet. Es war ein kontinuierliches Zischen im Bereich der Cockpittür zu hören. Die Quelle für das Zischen konnte nicht lokalisiert werden. Kurz darauf kam es zum Unwohlsein des Co-Piloten, woraufhin die Flightcrew entsprechend der airberlin Verfahren vorsorglich die Sauerstoffmasken angelegt haben, weil sich auch der Kapitän nicht über seinen Gesundheitszustand sicher war. Unmittelbar nach Anlegen der Sauerstoffmasken ging es der Cockpitbesatzung wieder gut. Die Piloten baten um eine priorisierte Landung in Nantes, die mit einer Dringlichkeitsmeldung (Pan Pan) einherging. Als das Flugzeug gelandet ist, wurde es bereits von einem Rettungswagen erwartet, der vom Radarlotsen gemäß Handbuch angefordert worden war. Das airberlin Network Operation Center sowie die airberlin technik wurden unmittelbar nach der Landung telefonisch durch den Kapitän informiert. Nach Abschalten der Triebwerke haben die Piloten die Fenster im Cockpit geöffnet und die Sauerstoffmasken abgenommen. Auf Geheiß des Kapitäns wurden die vorderen und hinteren Türen zum Lüften geöffnet. Es dauerte mehrere Minuten bis die Treppe herangefahren wurde. Feuerwehrleute, der Ramp Agent und die französische Gendarmerie sind dann an Bord gekommen. Zwischenzeitlich wurde auch die BFU über den Vorgang durch airberlin informiert.
Die Piloten haben die üblichen Cockpit Arbeiten abgeschlossen. Auf Bitten der Rettungskräfte vor Ort haben sich beide Piloten nacheinander medizinisch untersuchen lassen. Beide Piloten haben das Flugzeug jeweils eigenständig und ohne fremde Hilfe verlassen. Die Untersuchungen erfolgten nacheinander, so dass das Cockpit zu jeder Zeit besetzt war.
Wie häufig bei außerplanmäßigen Landungen waren die Fluggäste während dieser Zeit in der Flugzeugkabine. Nachdem die Gäste das Flugzeug eigenständig verlassen hatten, wurde die Flightcrew zu einer weiteren Untersuchung in ein Krankenhaus gebracht. Dies entspricht den Verfahren von airberlin.
Es wurden unmittelbar nach Information hochqualifizierte Techniker der airberlin technik nach Frankreich geschickt. Das Flugzeug wurde basierend auf den Meldungen und dem Techlog Eintrag überprüft. Es wurde ein Triebwerksstandlauf durchgeführt und die Kabine mit einem Differenzdruck beaufschlagt, um einerseits das zischende Geräusch zu reproduzieren und weiterhin die ordnungsmäßige Funktion der Klimaanlage zu überprüfen. Die Mitarbeiter der airberlin technik waren in Kontakt mit dem Kapitän für Rückfragen.
Es konnte keine technische Beanstandung festgestellt werden und das Flugzeug wurde für den weiteren Service freigegeben. Gerüche wurden ebenfalls nicht festgestellt. Dies wurde nochmals nach Durchführung des Ferry Fluges bestätigt.
Am 3. April fand ein De-Briefing der Crew in Nantes statt. Das Flugzeug wurde von der Crew freiwillig und ohne weitere Geräuschwahrnehmung nach MUC überführt. Beide Piloten haben sich bei einem Durchgangsarzt einem erneuten Check unterzogen. Für weitere medizinische Untersuchungen, die airberlin voll umfänglich unterstützt, ist der FO bis zum finalen Vorliegen der Untersuchungsergebnisse vom Flugdienst freigestellt. Der Kapitän übt seine fliegerische Tätigkeit bereits wieder aus.
Die BFU und die frz. Behörden haben die Untersuchungen zu diesem Vorgang eingestellt.
Summary of the statement:
the following report was compiled with input from both captain and first officer. Flight AB2191 diverted to Nantes after a hissing sound from the area of the cockpit door. The source of the hissing sound could not be determined. “A short time later an indisposition of the first officcer occurred prompting the flight crew to don their oxygen masks as a precaution according to Air Berlin procedures, because the captain was not certain about his own condition, too.” Immediately after donning the oxygen masks both flight crew felt well again. The crew declared PAN PAN PAN and diverted to Nantes. After landing the aircraft was awaited by an ambulance, that according to handbook had been requested by Nantes Air Traffic Control.
Immediately after landing the captain phoned Air Berlin network operations center and technics. After landing both engines were shut down, the cockpit sliding windows were opened and the crew removed their oxygen masks. The captain instructed cabin crew to open front and aft doors for ventilation of the cabin. It took a couple of minutes until stairs were attached to the aircraft, subsequently fire fighters, the ramp agent and French Gendarmerie boarded the aircraft. In the meantime Germany’s BFU was informed about the occurrence. The flight crew completed their usual cockpit work. Upon request by paramedics both captain and first officer were assessed, one after the other, both left the cockpit without assistance. The examinations were done in sequence so that the cockpit was occupied at any time.
The passenges were initially kept aboard as happens on many unscheduled landings, after the passengers had disembarked both flight crew were taken to a hospital in accordance with Air Berlin procedures.
Highly qualified Technicians were dispatched to France, an engine run was performed, a differential pressure was created in the cabin in order to identify the hissing sounds and verify correct operation of the air conditioning systems in consultation and contact with the captain. No anomalies were found however and no odour was detected. This was also confirmed during the subsequent ferry flight.
The crew was debriefed on Apr 3rd in Nantes, the crew voluntarily ferried the aircraft to Munich and without further detection of any unusual sounds. Both pilots subsequently went to see an accident insurance consultant (or medical referee) in compliance with Air Berlin procedures. For continuing medical examinations, fully supported by Air Berlin, the first officer was relieved from duties until a final result. The captain is already flying again.
BEA and BFU have dropped the investigation.
Read the full AV Herald report here