Aer Rianta telephonist heard ‘Bin Laden accent’

AN AER RIANTA telephonist, who claimed she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after taking a bomb call which later turned out to be a hoax at Dublin Airport, yesterday settled her action for damages in the High Court.

Caroline Lynch, aged 41, of Maolbuille Road, Glasnevin, Dublin, told the court that following the early morning call she was upset, her mouth later came out in ulcers, her stomach was in bits and she stayed in bed for a year-and-a-half.

Ms Lynch, after giving a portion of her evidence settled her action against Aer Rianta. It is understood the settlement was in the region of €15,000.

She had sued Aer Rianta for damages as a result of the incident four years ago. She claimed she suffered nightmares and had flashbacks triggered by the incident.

Mr Justice Vivian Lavan was told that half an hour after the call in 2002 it was deemed to be a hoax.

Aer Rianta had denied it failed to provide adequate supports to Ms Lynch or that she suffered the injuries alleged.

Opening the case, Padraig McCartan SC said the mother of two had worked with Aer Rianta since 1984 and had a fight to get the telephonist's job. He said that at 3.30am on April 28, 2002.

Ms Lynch got a call saying there was a bomb in the building. He said it was a short time after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

She phoned airport police and the airport duty officer.

Counsel said Ms Lynch was left alone and she felt unsafe and concerned. At 5.30am two airport police came to her but at this stage, counsel said, she was in a "fair state of terror and nervous shock".

He said she wanted to go home immediately but stayed at her station until her shift finished at 8am and carried out the necessary paperwork surrounding the call.

Counsel said in the days that followed Ms Lynch "fell asunder completely" and mouth ulcers developed and her hair began to fall out.

At one stage, counsel said, Ms Lynch was told by somebody in Aer Rianta who was not a doctor that it was not post-traumatic stress "because she did not see any dead bodies".

Counsel claimed Ms Lynch had no training at all to deal with calls such as this and was never debriefed.

He said a gentleman with a foreign accent had made the call. Ms Lynch, he said, associated his voice "with an Afghanistan background an Osama Bin Laden-type background ".

Mr McCartan said Ms Lynch was left on her own and she suffered appalling symptoms immediately. It was a hoax call, but it had a devastating effect on Ms Lynch.

She had fought tooth and nail for the telephonist's job and now she could not go back to it.

In her evidence, Ms Lynch said she had spent 20 years trying to get the telephonist job and the call came after two years in the job.

She had answered the 3.30am call by saying "Good morning, Dublin Airport. Can I help you?"

A voice, she said, in a Bin Laden accent said: "There is a bomb in your airport." The call, she said, lasted a second.

She said she was nervous but proceeded in the way she was trained. She told the judge she felt it was her duty to stay at her station.

A half-hour later, she said, the operations room rang back to say it was a hoax.

As the night went on she said she became frightened, and by the time two airport police came to her she said she was really shook up. Another person, she said, told her the bomb did not go off and was no big deal.

When she got home at the end of her shift, she said she was very nervous and could see mice running around the floor, even though there were not any mice.

She felt she had to go in to work the next day but felt vulnerable and jumped in her seat any time a male voice came on the phone.

"I was at the end of my tether at the end of the shift and my stomach was in bits," she said.

She later went to her GP and was referred to psychotherapist.

"I never slept. I was in bed a year-and-a-half. The two discs collapsed in my back a month after the call. I had lost four stone in weight and put it back on.

"I was in bed all the time. I was distressed and upset for my two children to see me like this," she said.

In July 2002, she said she took an overdose of pills but would not go to hospital and slept it off.

She later found it difficult being in the airport and was physically sick when she was in the vicinity.

She later visited her therapist but did go to Portugal for her 40th birthday and once she got on the plane she was fine.

Mr Justice Lavan said it was unusual case and had unusual facets.

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