Danish Air Transport MD83 near Ashgabat on Sep 29th 2011, captain incapacitated due to violent seizures

Last Update: June 14, 2012 / 20:32:13 GMT/Zulu time

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Incident Facts

Date of incident
Sep 29, 2011

Flight number

Aircraft Registration

ICAO Type Designator

A Danish Air Transport McDonnell Douglas MD-83, registration OY-RUE performing flight DX-3098 from Kabul (Afghanistan) to Trabzon (Turkey) and further to Copenhagen (Denmark) with 90 passengers and 5 crew, was enroute at FL310 about 60nm northeast of Ashgabat (Turkmenistan), when the crew agreed the captain would take a rest. The first officer took control of the aircraft, the captain leaned back and closed his eyes. Shortly after the captain's body suffered violent convulsions causing the body to form a backward arc and the feet were repeatedly thrown onto the floor. These convulsions also resulted in the captain's head hitting cockpit panels resulting in injuries to his head. Then the convulsions ceased and the captain's body collapsed. The first officer tried to contact the captain but received no response. The purser came to the cockpit to assist with the removal of the captain from the flight deck as the first officer was concerned further convulsion might result in the captain hitting flight controls or switches. After verifying that the captain was alive but unconscious purser and first officer agreed the captain needed medical treatment as soon as possible, the first officer decided to divert to Ashgabat and request medical assistance for the captain upon arrival, air traffic control however had trouble to understand what the first officer requested, but then finally cleared the flight to descend and head towards Ashgabat Airport. A doctor on board was called out and found amongst the passengers, she checked the captain, then he was moved out of the cockpit. While in the cabin she recognized the captain was beginning to become conscious again, the captain however was confused, could not remember his name, age or what had happened. The doctor could not find anything besides a high blood pressure and a wound at the head. During the descent the captain became more and more conscious and wanted to return to the cockpit not understanding why they diverted to Ashgabat. The purser prevented the captain from entering the cockpit again, the captain however insisted and finally entered the cockpit and took his seat. The first officer explained what had happened and convinced the captain to let him continue flying without interference. The aircraft touched down safely in Ashgabat with the first officer still at the controls, during roll out the first officer felt confident enough to invite the captain to take control to steer the aircraft to the apron as he was sure he could stop the aircraft via brakes pedal any time if necessary. When the aircraft turned onto taxiway D the first officer felt the speed was too high and stopped the aircraft with the pedals, the captain insisted he had control of the aircraft but the first officer was not inclined to let him continue steering the aircraft, but again considering he always could stop the aircraft if needed agreed. The captain managed to turn the aircraft 90 degrees off onto the taxiway and steer the aircraft, guided by a follow me vehicle, to the stand.

After the aircraft stopped at the stand a waiting medical team entered the aircraft, the captain however refused to be taken to a hospital claiming he was alright. The first officer and a flight attendant managed to persuade the captain however to be taken to the hospital, the flight attendant went to the hospital with him.

The aircraft reached Copenhagen the following day with a delay of about 24 hours.

The Danish Havarikommission (HCL) released their report in Danish concluding the cause of the incident was:

the captain suffered a generalized seizure, an event that was not necessarily included in flight crew training. The event consisted of three elements each of which placed great demand on the first officer:

- violent and uncontrolled movements of the captain near the flight controls
- lack of awareness by the captain
- the captain's inability to comprehend what had happened and his inability to understand he was unfit to continue duties

The HCL reported the captain (ATPL) had completed his last medical check on Sep 5th 2011 and received his medical under the only condition to wear eye glasses/lenses during flight.

The HCL concluded that the captain suffered a generalized seizure, which the HCL considers especially critical to flight safety as it occurs without prior warning and the patient can perform uncontrolled movements with great force while not feeling any pain and remaining unaware of the convulsions and typically would not remember the event after the seizure.

The HCL analysed that the first officer was in a very difficult situation. Not only did he need to fly the aircraft without assistance from the captain, a task which training had prepared him for, but he also needed to handle the captain during and after the attack. The captain was unable to comprehend after the attack what had happened and used his authority when he was denied access to the cockpit.
Incident Facts

Date of incident
Sep 29, 2011

Flight number

Aircraft Registration

ICAO Type Designator

This article is published under license from Avherald.com. © of text by Avherald.com.
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