Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter.

Mental Health not a significant contributor

CORONER NOT PERSUADED THAT MENTAL ILLNESS CONTRIBUTED TO LOSS OF SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

NZALPA’S MEDICAL AND WELFARE OFFICER, ANDY PENDER, GIVES ADVICE FOLLOWING THE RELEASE OF THE CORONER’S REPORT INTO A HIGH PROFILE DOUBLE FATALITY AND THE PART MEDICATION MAY HAVE PLAYED.

A coroner’s report into the fatal aircraft accident that killed 2degrees CEO Eric Hertz and his wife Kathy in 2013 has found that the accident can be attributed to a loss of situational awareness not mental health issues.

Last month Waikato-based coroner Gordon Matenga released his report into the accident, recommending changes to how pilots apply for medical certificates. The couple were flying a Beechcraft Baron aircraft from Ardmore to Timaru in March 2013 when, about 30 minutes into the flight, the aircraft entered into a spin and crashed into the sea.

During the Coroner’s investigation it was revealed that there were traces of anti-depressant medication in Mr Hertz’s blood, and that Mr Hertz had knowingly failed to disclose to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) his diagnosis of mental health issues or that he was taking medication for this.

Had he disclosed this, neither the FAA nor the CAA would have likely issued a medical certificate.

The Principle Medical Officer for the CAA considered that it was possible that the use of antidepressant medication has the potential to distract or impair decision making resulting in “poor responses to emergency situations.

However, the Coroner accepted that, while there is a “general proposition that there are many factors which may impact on a pilot’s reaction in a time of stress during an emergency. These factors include the pilot’s health, the nature of the emergency, sensory inputs, environmental factors, training and experience and that a careful consideration of the evidence available should be made before making any findings."

Further the Coroner stated “I am persuaded that it is reasonable to conclude that Mr Hertz lost situational awareness. It is reasonable to draw the inference that one of the reasons for that loss of situational awareness was because Mr Hertz was flying in cloud. I am not persuaded that GAD, MDD or duloxetine therapy contributed to the loss of situation awareness.

However, the Coroner did raise concerns with the apparent ease in which Mr Hertz was able to keep his medical condition confidential and kept from both the CAA and FAA. In his recommendations the Coroner suggested that the pilot applicant’s GP or usual medical practitioner should have to complete section 20 of the application for a medical certificate, and provide that section to the CAA or FAA.

This would ensure, Coroner Matenga said, that the medical examiner is provided with an accurate medical history.

This recommendation does give GP’s and the medical examiner more control, and comes with fears that pilots will decide to not seek the medical help they may need if it means losing their medical certificate.

NZALPA does not want pilots to worry unnecessarily following this report. Members and colleagues need to know that there are a number of support networks available where NZALPA can help and discuss possible options. And we can do so confidentially.

Often if symptoms are caught early and managed, then it is not necessary to go down the track of losing your medical. It is important when faced with these options to know that you are not alone and that we are here to give you the support and information you may need.

We encourage members who are concerned about their mental health to seek the help that they need by contacting the Medical & Welfare Director Andy Pender, or any of the Peer Assistance Network Co-Ordinators on 0800 PAN 100 or assist.coordinator@nzalpa.org.nz.

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