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.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Port-au-Prince (After The Quake)

A trip I flew to Haiti, "Third World Operations", was worthy of a post way back in early December.

That was the last time I had been back to Haiti until just recently. My employer has resumed service back into Port-au-Prince and I had the opportunity to re-visit PAP on a recent trip.

My first officer that day was new to PAP so I would be the tour guide. Our preflight duties included a complete review of the temporary restrictions governing commercial aircraft operations in and out of Haiti. We were carrying a complete packet of the latest procedures, communications frequencies, arrival and departure profiles, parking instructions, and anything else relevant to the airport. We were departing Miami in a fully loaded 767.... 223 passengers and a crew of 13.

Shortly after the quake, the United States came in to provide air traffic control services as well as medical and humanitarian aid on a massive scale. The US has been slowly returning ATC control back to the Haitians and today we were in Haitian controllers hands. That would prove to be a detriment to our goal of operating a uneventful flight!

We launched from MIA behind an arriving World Airways MD-11 and climbed eastbound across the Bahamas chain.

It was business as usual until we had to switch over to Port-au-Prince tower.

Descending in, we were cleared for an ILS to runway 10 with a circle to land on runway 28. But we were only given a clearance to descend to 5000 ft and to report inbound on the ILS. OK fine...So we continued on in and reported inbound but the controller was apparently too busy or distracted to hear us. We kept calling until he finally answered us and asked where we were? "We're overhead the field at 5000 ft" was our answer! He seemed surprised and promptly cleared us back to the initial approach fix and gave us instructions to hold and await further clearance.

20 minutes later he cleared us for the same approach and for us to call the field in sight and to enter a downwind for runway 28. So we did all that and set up for the landing. Meanwhile he cleared a Canadian Air Force C-17 to back-taxi for takeoff on runway 28. As we turned final, the tower amended the C-17's enroute clearance which resulted in them not being ready for takeoff. With us now on short final and the C-17 still on the runway, we had to execute a go-around and get back in the pattern.

So now we're back on final and the tower has cleared the C-17 for takeoff. It all was looking good until the C-17 aborted their takeoff with some sort of mechanical issue. We had no choice....another go-around!! We broke off to the right and started a climb. Just then we received a traffic alert on our TCAS with instructions to "CLIMB, CLIMB". I looked out and saw a Cessna Caravan doing a steep turn to avoid us as we were climbing and turning in the other direction. That was close!
We asked the tower for instructions and all he could tell us was "go hold east of the airport somewhere". He was completely flustered and not in control of his airspace. Now a clearance like that in the real world is just unheard of! We were clearly on our own this day.

After several minutes of us circling low over the city, he told us to come on in and land. By then we had lost sight of the airport so we had to rely on some basic VFR skills and dead reckoning to re-acquire the airport.

The third time was a charm and we actually made a landing.

Taxiing in we could see the massive amounts of relief supplies and equipment all over the airport. It must have been a huge undertaking getting all these supplies in right after the quake.
They even brought in a temporary control tower since the PAP tower was destroyed.
Sorry that it's blurry.
On the bright side, we were able to use a jet bridge and keep our passengers off of the ramp area like in the past.

After the First Officer and I finished the parking checklist we just looked at each other in disbelief and breathed a sigh of relief. That was a flight to remember!

So off with 223 passengers and on with 223 more heading back to Miami.

The takeoff and climb went smoothly. Climbing out over the bay we could see several US Navy ships anchored. Two of them were Landing Helicopter Assault ships that were helping with the relief effort.It will most likely be years before Haiti gets back on it's feet after such a disaster. But the recovery goes on and life is very slowly returning to Port-au-Prince.
Two hours later we were on final to runway 30 at Miami.

Once again it was nice to be back in US airspace.

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