A British Airways co-pilot who believed he had been poisoned by contaminated cockpit air had been suffering from a nervous system problem which could have caused his “excruciating” symptoms, an inquest has heard.
Neuropathologist Dr Daniel du Plessis told the hearing in Salisbury that Richard Westgate died as a result of an overdose of the insomnia drug pentobarbital but added there was no evidence it was intentional.
He added that narrowing of the arteries and lymphocytic myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle – might have “quickened” Mr Westgate’s death.
The 43-year-old, from Marlborough, Wiltshire, died at the Bastion Hotel in Bussum, Netherlands, in December 2012 while undergoing treatment after he suffered numerous symptoms which he put down to “aerotoxic syndrome”.
Dr du Plessis, of the Greater Manchester Neuroscience Centre, said he found evidence that Mr Westgate had been suffering from neuritis – inflammation of the nerve roots – which could explain many of these symptoms including pain, tingling sensations, numbness and balance problems.
He said: “It establishes beyond any doubt Mr Westgate was suffering from damage to his nervous system and that can explain a lot of the symptoms he had.”
Dr du Plessis said that organophosphate poisoning – the supposed cause of aerotoxic syndrome – could cause nerve problems but not the nerve inflammation suffered by Mr Westgate.
However, he added that he could not rule out this being caused by an auto-immune response to the poisoning.
He said: “I cannot dismiss it, it needs further investigation, the current scientific evidence is limited.”
Dr du Plessis added that a more likely explanation for Mr Westgate’s condition was an autoimmune condition such as Sjogren’s disease, which causes the immune system to start attacking healthy cells and tissues.
At the start of the week-long inquest, coroner Dr Simon Fox ruled that aerotoxic syndrome would not be treated as a factor in the death of Mr Westgate.
Lobby group Global Cabin Air Quality Executive is campaigning for equipment to be installed in aircraft to monitor air quality, which is supported by unions representing some airline workers.
In 2015, the Unite union launched a helpline and revealed 17 personal injury claims had been made involving former and current cabin crew staff working for UK airlines.
But the industry insists that incidents of smoke or fumes on planes are rare and there is no evidence of long-term health effects.
The hearing continues.
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