When the pilot asked the co-pilot what he thought had caused the roll he realised his second-in-command was unconscious.
The pilot managed to right the plane after which he made a PAN (urgency) call to Dublin Air Traffic Control (ATC) asking for priority landing.
A cabin crew member helped secure the co-pilot in his seat for landing and made sure he wasn’t impeding cockpit controls. The cabin crew member also assisted with the pre-landing checklists. An able-bodied passenger was briefed and occupied the crew seat at the rear of the passenger cabin during landing.
The co-pilot was kept in hospital overnight for observation and was found to have suffered a brief loss of consciousness (syncope) due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Air accident investigators said: “This condition can commonly occur in healthy people and recovery is normally prompt and without any persisting ill effects.”
However it was noted that the co-pilot was “probably under some stress on the morning of the flight” as his young child had a hospital appointment the following day.
The FlyBe Bombardier DHC 8-402 carrying 33 passengers and four crew, was on a scheduled flight from Exeter to Dublin on the afternoon of the incident, April 27, 2016.
Shortly before descent into Dublin, the co-pilot began to feel unwell and requested to leave the flight deck to go to the lavatory.
The pilot called a cabin crew member to the flight deck to cover his absence and turned on the seat belt sign. Just then, the pilot felt an unexpected aircraft upset in the form of a yaw and roll to the left by approximately 18 degrees.
Investigators said the co-pilot, “who had become incapacitated, had inadvertently made an input to the left rudder pedal”.
The pilot disconnected the autopilot, restored a “wings level” condition and reduced the engine power to maintain a stable descent.
The pilot told investigators his co-pilot was not responsive to verbal communication or physical stimulation for a period of less than one minute. The co-pilot gradually recovered and was able to converse approximately five minutes after his initial symptoms arose. He did not take any further part in the conduct of the flight and declined therapeutic oxygen.
ATC facilitated the flight with a direct routing and priority approach. The aircraft landed without further incident at 14.37 hrs and paramedics immediately attended to the co-pilot while the passengers remained seated.
When the aircraft arrived on stand, the co-pilot had recovered considerably. However, he was brought to hospital as a precaution. Crew said they had not noticed anything unusual about the co-pilot that would highlight any form of medical issue, only that he seemed distracted due to the fact his young child had a hospital appointment the following day. It was also reported that his recent sleep pattern had been disrupted.
Flybe’s operator corrected some minor issues identified by its internal safety investigator. The operator said the ‘the reaction by the rest of the crew was swift and effective and they should be commended for their calmness, initiative and attitude throughout the incident’.
Air accident investigators did not make any safety recommendations.