- Richard Westgate said ill health was caused by toxic fumes filtering into cockpit
- The 43-year-old had a number of health issues but grew ‘angry frustrated and disillusioned’ when British medical professionals were unable to cure him
- Suffered severe headaches, sight problems and insomnia before he died in 2012
- But the coroner ruled that the British Airways pilot’s death was accidental
The family of a British Airways pilot, who believed he suffered from toxic fumes in the cockpit, said the industry ‘has its head in the sand’ after a coroner ruled he died from an accidental overdose.
Richard Westgate, 43, had a number of health issues but grew ‘angry, frustrated and disillusioned’ when British medical professionals were unable to cure him.
The pilot, who ‘lived for flying’, then grounded himself from piloting planes when bosses refused to permanently sign him off.
He moved to the Netherlands when Dutch medical experts and scientists believed his claims and set about trying to cure him.
But on the opening day of his inquest at Salisbury Coroner’s Court, Wilts, coroner Dr Simon Fox QC said the issue – known as aerotoxic syndrome – was not something the parties will address.
And the airline industry argued there is no threat of fumes affecting passengers or crew.
But speaking today outside court after a week-long inquest into her son’s death, Judy Westgate said she was ‘dismayed’ at Dr Fox’s decision.
She said: ‘Richard loved life and had so much to live for.
‘He found his calling as a pilot, both in paragliding and flying passenger jets – something he considered a privilege.
‘A few years ago he started to get sick but his symptoms baffled doctors, either they didn’t know what was wrong or they chose not to help. The result was they all turned him away.
‘His sickness turned to excruciating pain – and still he felt the doctors betrayed him.
‘When Richard died four years ago, (the original) Coroner Sheriff Payne believed there could be a problem with poisons in cabin air of the aircraft Richard flew and started the inquest accordingly.
‘To our dismay however, the coroner was suddenly switched last year and the new coroner instructed that aerotoxic syndrome would not be discussed as ‘a proper issue’ in relation to Richard’s cause of death.’
The syndrome, Mr Westgate claimed, caused him to suffer years of poor health including severe headaches, mental confusion, sight problems and insomnia.
He died in December 2012 and a post mortem revealed he had been taking pentobarbital.
His twin brother Guy Westgate, 47 and also a BA pilot, told the inquest that his brother was working with researchers and campaigners to see if his claims could be true.
Guy told the inquest: ‘Richard believed he was unfit to work. He was trying to get signed off to be permanently unfit to work and kick start his insurance payouts.
‘That whole process was stopped because of the current system. No one was prepared to give a diagnosis of what he had.’
Pam Love (left), Guy Westgate and their mother Judith Westgate leave Wiltshire and Swindon Coroners Court
Guy, who attended the inquest with his sister Pam Love and their mother, wept as he described the pain his brother had been suffering to the court.
He said: ‘He would describe the pain as if his brain was being sandpapered.
‘He couldn’t find any other way to describe the severity of the pain.’
Richard Westgate had been on medical leave since September 2011 with his various deficits, for which he was seeking care.
Prior to his death, Richard had instructed lawyers to sue BA for health and safety breaches as he was convinced his problems were related to being exposed to toxic chemicals on board the planes he flew.
Richard Westgate (pictured) had a number of health issues but grew ‘angry, frustrated and disillusioned’ when British medical professionals were unable to cure him
Guy added during the inquest: ‘The Dutch team he found were the first people who believed in him. He had been let down by doctors, BA doctors, BALPA [British Airline Pilots Association] doctors.
‘The specialists he found in Holland were the first group who finally gave him light at the end of the tunnel. He went there to be cured.
‘He intended to come back as Richard Westgate. He was angry, frustrated, disillusioned. He couldn’t believe he was let down by so many people.
‘He couldn’t believe the medical profession let him down so badly.’
The inquest came about following a report to prevent future deaths issued by former senior coroner for Dorset Sheriff Stanhope Payne.
Prior to his death, Richard Westgate instructed lawyers to sue BA for health and safety breaches as he was convinced his problems were related to being exposed to toxic chemicals
Sheriff Payne wrote to the Civil Aviation Authority and British Airways in February 2015 outlining his concerns that Mr Westgate may have been poisoned after ‘testing of samples taken both prior to and after death disclosed symptoms consistent with exposure to organophosphate compounds in aircraft cabin air’.
He said the matters of concern were the ‘consequential damage’ to the health of pilots, and whether the ‘impairment to the health of those controlling aircraft may lead to the death of occupants’.
The inquest heard the cause of death was a pentobarbitial overdose – a group of drugs which helps slow the nervous system. His body was found on December 12, 2012 at Bastion Hotel, in Bussum, Netherlands.
Coroner Dr Fox QC ruled that Mr Westgate didn’t intentionally take his own life, and died from an accidental overdose.
Recording a narrative verdict Mr Fox said: ‘On that night he misjudged the amount of pentobarbitial with which he was self medicating.’
He added: ‘Mr Westgate died in his sleep in his hotel room on the night of December 11/12, 2012 as a result of taking an unintentional overdose of the sedative pentobarbitial.
‘It was an accidental death.’
Coroner Simon Fox passed his condolences to Mr Westgate’s family.
A BA spokesman said afterwards: ‘Our thoughts are with the family at this time.’
Click here for the full article.