December 8, 2008 | Mark Paradies

Monday Accident & Lessons Learned: Has a “Mentally Incapacitated” Pilot Crashed a Commercial Flight?

Previous posts about a pilot being removed from the cockpit after suffering a “mental breakdown” were posted back on February 5 and November 20.

Much of the industry press seems to downplay the safety importance of this event.

For example, here’s a pod cast on the topic:


Despite the reassurances (“there have been no passenger deaths or serious injuries associated with incidents where such behavior was proven“) from the spokesperson, I remember that the NTSB investigators were convinced that an EgyptAir 767 crash in the Atlantic was almost certainly due to a pilots deliberate actions. (The story says: “On 31 October 1999, an EgyptAir 767 en route from New York to Cairo, crashed in the Atlantic, killing all 217 on board. The NTSB concluded that the airplane’s departure from normal cruise flight and subsequent impact with the Atlantic Ocean was a result of the first officer’s flight control inputs, but could not determine a reason for the first officer’s actions.“)

I read the complete NTSB report and the only logical conclusion was that the co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane. Anyone who would deliberately crash a fully loaded jet must be considered “mentally abnormal”. (However, if you read the report you will see considerable objections to the deliberate suicide scenario by the Egyptian investigators. I think these objections are countered by the evidence in the report. But you can draw your own conclusions after reading the report.)

Thus my conclusion is that in this case, there HAS been a case where a flight originating in the US was deliberately crashed by an unstable pilot. I think that the spokesperson on the pod cast is overaly reassuring when he said:

“…there have been no passenger deaths or serious injuries associated with incidents where such behavior was proven

A more accurate statement is that “there have probably been two prior accidents caused by mentally abnormal pilots but that these types of problems are very difficult to prove.”

So what is the lesson learned?

That a pilots mental stability really is important. A mentally unstable pilot really is a major problem.

But what can we do? That’s not very obvious.

You might start thinking about what your company does to assess the mental stability of people in key jobs that could cause major accidents with loss of life.

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