The Australian Safety Transport Bureau (ATSB) has begun an investigation into a case of a cabin crew incapacitation during a regional Virgin Australia flight between Newman and Perth, in Australia.
According to the Australian transport safety authority, on December 27, 2021, the Virgin Australia Fokker F100 aircraft, registered as VH-FNU was operating a scheduled passenger flight VA-1896 from Newman Airport (ZNE) to Perth Airport (PER) with seven travelers and five crew members on board. While the plane was cruising at a flight level 340 (34,000 ft), one of the cabin crew members reported feeling unwell and was treated with portable oxygen onboard.
In the meantime, the flight crew climbed the Fokker F100 jet to flight level 350 (35,000 ft). Afew minutes after the climb, the other two cabin crew members also starting feeling unwell and, based on their symptoms, told the pilots they suspected hypoxia. The first officer then also started feeling dizzy and experiencing slight nausea, also signs of hypoxia.
Hypoxia is a lack of oxygen in the body tissues, which can cause fatigue, confusion, impaired decision-making and performance and eventually result in death. At high altitudes, the partial pressure of oxygen is lower and this causes hypoxia. Cabin pressurization resolves this.
As a precautionary measure, the pilots donned their oxygen masks, manually deployed the passenger oxygen masks in the cabin and immediately descended the jet to an altitude of 10,000 ft. That is the altitude where no cabin pressurization is required.
Upon arrival in PER, one cabin crew member was taken to the local hospital for medical assessment.
“The investigation is continuing. Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties, so that appropriate safety action can be taken,” the ATSB statement reads.
The Australian authority expects to conclude the investigation and provide the detailed final report in the third quarter of 2022.