A British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Athens was forced to divert and make an emergency landing in Zurich, Switzerland on Boxing Day after the First Officer slipped into unconsciousness while at the controls, the airline confirmed on Sunday. A spokesperson for British Airways said the safety of passengers and crew members was not compromised despite the dramatic turn of events.
British Airways flight BA640 departed at around 8.10 am on Saturday morning for what should have been a near three hour flight to the Greek capital. As the plane neared Zadar in Croatia, however, the Captain reportedly decided to make an airborne return to Heathrow because the First Officer was feeling unwell.
In fact, the co-pilot was so sick that the Captain indicated that he was considering a medical diversion to either Paris or Zurich. As the plane neared Zurich, the First Officer fell unconscious prompting the Captain to make an unscheduled stop in Switzerland.
The plane landed safely in Zurich without further incident and eventually departed for Athens nearly six hours later. Passengers finally made it to their final destination some nine hours later than they had been expecting.
In a statement, a spokesperson reassured that the plane remained in the full control of the Captain saying: “The safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority and our teams looked after customers before they carried on their journey to Athens yesterday evening.”
British Airways was not able to give an update on the condition of the First Officer or explain why the pilot had been sickened.
In the last year, British Airways has had to deal with several incidents involving its pilots being taken sick at the controls. In February, two pilots flying another Airbus A320 “felt dizzy and faint” after a so-called ‘fume’ or ‘odour’ event onboard a flight from London Gatwick to Tenerife.
And in January, a First Officer passed out after another strange odour filled the flight deck of a British Airways operated Airbus A320 which was flying from Athens to London Heathrow.
On each occasion, British Airways says passenger safety has never been put at risk and that the aircraft involved are only cleared to fly after being put through a series of tests performed by skilled engineers.
There’s no suggestion that a ‘fume event’ caused the latest pilot incapacitation, although what exactly caused the First Officer to pass out remains a mystery.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.