Irish investigators recommend ICAO defibrillator move

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Irish air accident investigators are recommending that ICAO adopt the US FAA’s proposals on airline carriage of medical defibrillator equipment, after a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 captain collapsed from a cardiac arrest during the aircraft’s departure.

The captain had been the pilot flying when the incident occurred shortly after the aircraft took off from Brussels Charleroi Airport on a flight to London Stansted.

He collapsed at the controls as the 737 climbed through a height of around 8,000ft – leaving the first officer with the task of attempting to revive him with oxygen while simultaneously coping with the need to fly the aircraft back to Brussels.

After the otherwise uneventful landing, the aircraft stopped on the runway while medical assistance was summoned. The captain survived the heart attack.

In a report into the 16 July 2002 incident the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) says that defibrillation, rather than cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is the only effective way to treat the abnormal heart rhythm which can arise from sudden cardiac arrest.

The AAIU adds that, for defibrillation to be effective, it must be applied within minutes of arrest – pointing out that, after 10mins, survival is unlikely.

While it emphasises that the prompt actions of the first officer, cabin crew and others probably saved the captain’s life, it adds: “The availability of a defibrillator on board could have improved the on-board response to the incapacitation.”

It is recommending that ICAO make the US FAA’s proposals on carriage, training and use of automatic external defibrillators a standard for all airlines.

Budget carrier Ryanair presently does not carry defibrillation equipment on board its aircraft and a spokeswoman for the airline says that it has no immediate plans to install such systems.