Cabin attendant wins damages for illness caused by toxic cabin air

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A flight attendant from the former Australian regional carrier East-West Airlines whose health was damaged by toxic fumes in the aircraft cabin has won A$138,800 ($129,000) compensation at the high court despite an appeal by the aircraft manufacturer.

Joanne Turner was working for East-West when fumes entered the cabin in the descent at the end of a Sydney-Brisbane flight in 1992. At the time she was 25 weeks pregnant and she complained of a burning throat, sore eyes, headaches and a persistent cough after the fume incident.

It has been established that the fumes that entered the cabin pressurisation system were the result of a leaking engine oil seal in the BAe 146 regional jet in which she was flying.

The Australian Dust and Diseases Tribunal - the national agency with the closest area of expertise to this case - awarded Turner $138,757 in damages some time ago, but East-West had appealed against that decision. Now the high court has upheld it.

Turner says: "I'm just very relieved it's finally over. I hope the fight will help other flightcrew."

Meanwhile, a University of New South Wales survey has found that about 25% of pilots who flew on the BAe 146 suffered long-term health degradation that deprived them of their pilot licences, and an Australian Senate inquiry found East-West and Ansett Airlines, by 2007, had been paid more than $2 million in 1993 by BAE Systems - British Aerospace's successor - to drop complaints about the BAe 146.

Court judgements are pending on the same subject in other Australian states and in Belgium.