Dorset coroner’s “urgent” warning over toxic fumes in aircraft as pilot dies from aerotoxic syndrome
DORSET Coroner Sheriff Payne has warned that passengers are at risk of death from toxic fumes inside aircraft cabins.
He has asked for “urgent action” after considering his initial findings in an investigation into the death of 43-year-old British Airways pilot Richard Westgate.
Mr Payne has taken the unusual step of voicing concerns ahead of a full inquest into Mr Westgate’s death.
And he has written to BA and the Civil Aviation Authority asking them to take action.
In his letter he said: “In my opinion urgent action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe your organisation has the power to take such action.”
Mr Payne said he is concerned that cabin occupants are being exposed to organophosphates, which occur when pressurised air becomes tainted with jet fuel.
His intervention is the first official recognition of so-called Aerotoxic Syndrome, believed to be linked to memory loss, tremors, lethargy and death.
It is suggested that frequent fliers, particularly cabin crew, are most at risk but Mr Payne said that if a pilot’s judgement is altered it puts every person on the plane at risk.
Mr Westgate, who lived in Wiltshire, was buried in Dorset and his parents live in the county.
He died in the Netherlands where he was being treated for Aerotoxic Syndrome.
Speaking to the Daily Echo today, Mr Payne said: “He tried to get treatment in this country without success so he went to the Netherlands to see a specialist.
“I have made a report before the full inquest because there is a potential risk now which needs to be looked at with some urgency.
“In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.”
Mr Westgate’s parents, Judy and Peter, have claimed airlines and regulators have failed to act for many years, despite evidence of poisoning.
Mrs Westgate said: “Richard would complain about the aircraft being smelly. He would go away and come back from trips feeling worse. It is hard not to believe there has been some sort of cover-up.”
Mr Payne said the lawyer representing the Westgate family, Frank Cannon, has provided him with several files of evidence.
Mr Cannon said: “It seems there is a mixture of crass ignorance and a cover-up. The airlines have known about this for a long time. We have seen staff who have been reporting this since 2000.”
A CAA spokesperson said: “Passenger and crew safety is of paramount importance to the CAA. Airlines are required to report any potential safety incidents, including where fumes or smoke are detected on board an aircraft. Although these incidents are rare, we take all reports seriously and review them to identify any safety issues or trends.
“We can confirm we have received a report from the senior coroner for Dorset ahead of an inquest into the death of Richard Westgate. We are now reviewing the coroner’s report in detail and will respond shortly.”
A spokeseperson for British Airways added: “We will respond to the coroner in due course. It would be inappropriate to comment further while proceedings are continuing.”
Mr Payne said a pre-inquest hearing will be held next month where a date for a full hearing will be set. It is likely to take several months to get all the witnesses together.
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