Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Should We Divert?

Several months ago I wrote about a passenger issue concerning a child traveling with a severe peanut allergy. The flight was ultimately operated without incident and everybody seemed pleased with the outcome.

A recent flight of mine brought all that allergy business back into play.

Departure: Madrid, Spain

Destination: Dallas/Ft Worth, TX

Typically when we arrive at the aircraft, one of the first things we do is look over the logbook for any write-ups made by the inbound crew or any items that are currently inoperative and awaiting repairs. We also look back over several days or more worth of write-ups just to get a general idea of what has been going on with the maintenance on that particular aircraft.

This day our aircraft had just arrived from Miami and was one of the newer 767's. It had all the newer nav equipment and some other bonus features.
A check of the logbook revealed some nuisance cabin issues that were being corrected prior to boarding. The only cockpit item that was inoperative was the SatCom (satellite communication) radio system. It had been inop for a couple of days so we knew it wasn't going to get repaired in Madrid. A visit with the mechanic on duty confirmed this as well.

The SatCom allows us to communicate with our dispatchers and maintenance technicians from just about anywhere in the world. The quality of the communication is outstanding. It is a favorite among the pilot group. We hoped we wouldn't need it this day.
After a lengthy delay for departing traffic, we finally launched and headed west for the ten hour leg to Texas.

It was business as usual for the first hour and a half of flight.

Then the cockpit chime rang.
The purser was calling to advise us that a lady passenger was having an allergic reaction to the pesto sauce in her meal. The lady reported that she always travels with Benadryl (for this very reason), but she somehow managed to forget it this time and she inadvertently ate the pesto sauce.

The lady was asking the flight attendants if we had any Benadryl on board that she could take. Now that might be a good solution to the problem, but I couldn't possibly condone any of our cabin crew dispensing any kind of medication without the proper authorization! Not in today's society! So my answer was a definite "NO.....but Standby."

By now we were getting close to the Azores so I asked the first officer to check with Santa Maria on our HF radio for the latest Lajes weather (just in case).
It was marginal....the other options would be to turn around and land in Lisbon or return to Madrid.

So this is where the SatCom would have come in handy.

My employer has a program in place just for situations like this. There is always a physician on call available to answer any questions or to assess a passengers condition via radio voice call or phone patch. It's not perfect but it is far better than having an untrained airline crew attempting to diagnose an ailing passenger.
The only problem with this program is that we have to be able to contact them via radio! So that wasn't going to be an option this day so we had to find another solution.

I was in almost constant communication with our purser and she was reporting that the lady was beginning to have difficulty breathing.

All of our planes carry a medical kit on board with basic first aid and certain other medical supplies. But the only one authorized to dispense any of the medicine is a qualified physician.

So the next option was to make a PA announcement asking if there was a physician on board that would assist.
With over 200 passengers on board this day we were lucky to have a Spanish physician answer the call. He assessed the lady's condition and administered the equivalent of Benadryl that was in the onboard medical kit.

Her condition did not seem to be improving as we pushed westward, but it wasn't worsening either. We were now well past the Azores and our next suitable divert option was Keflavik, Iceland. However, the physician seemed to be of the opinion that she was going to be okay so we pressed on towards home.

Another hour passed and she was now improving. Her breathing was back to normal and the physician seemed happy with her condition.

We would soon have VHF radio capability and would be advising our dispatcher of our situation. By the time we passed Gander, Newfoundland, all was well in the cabin and the remaining hours passed without any further issues.

Typically an Atlantic crossing consists of a few radio position reports, some basic map plotting, a crew meal, a bathroom break, and maybe some other mundane tasks. This crossing would prove to be far different. I can't remember ever having been so busy on any given leg.

Thankfully this day we had the good fortune to have a physician on board and we were grateful for his services. I personally thanked him when we landed and he was very gracious about the entire incident. A good guy for sure!!

That SatCom would have been a great help.....Good thing that we didn't have to divert!

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mt Poas, Costa Rica

With all the recent natural disasters in the world making headlines, I'm pretty content to be steering clear of them and enjoying the mostly sunny skies of the Caribbean and Central America.

However, on a recent trip to San Jose, Costa Rica, as I was unpacking my suitcase in my hotel room, the entire building began to shake and I immediately knew it wasn't the icemaker down the hall!
Yes, it was a small earthquake....enough to knock the pictures off my wall and kill the electricity for a couple of hours but no real damage that I heard about.

The next morning's ride out to the airport had me riding shotgun in the crew van next to our driver. I can speak some limited Spanish so I asked him about the earthquake the previous afternoon. I understood him to say that "oh, we get those all the time...no big deal" or something to that effect. That would make sense since Costa Rica is right smack in the middle of a chain of volcanoes (with it's associated seismic activity) running right down the Pacific coastlines of the Americas.

Then we started discussing the volcanoes in the general vicinity of San Jose. I asked him about any major eruptions and how often they might occur. He said that about every thirty years or so they get an eruption out of one of the nearby volcanoes.

"So how long has it been since the last one?" I asked.

"About thirty years!" he said laughingly!

So with all that to think about we launched our fully loaded 757 for the 2.5 hour leg to Miami.

In a previous post I talked about the departure procedure in San Jose. This day was no different. Takeoff was on runway 07 with a steep climbout to the south, then west, and then an eventual turn to the north.

The POAS SID (standard instrument departure) takes air traffic right by Mt Poas, which lies not too far from San Jose. Typically the peak is obscured by cloud cover, but this was our lucky day. Clear skies prevailed and we would get to look straight down into the semi-active crater.

No ash cloud to worry about though. This volcano was only spewing small amounts of steam and sulfur. Let's hope it stays that way for a long time.

Looking off towards the southeast in the direction of Panama, we could see a more active peak spewing what looked like an ash cloud. Best to steer clear of this one!

No, it's not nearly as impressive as the eruption in Iceland, but it was still fun to see an active volcano from a safe distance. Volcanoes are just not something you get to see that often and if I ever get to see an eruption like the recent one in Iceland, I hope that the ash cloud and I are moving in opposite directions!

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.