As the fallout from the Germanwings disaster continues to unfold, with psychiatrists claiming that declaring Andreas Lubitz unfit to fly would have been an invasion of his privacy, we find that this is far from being the only aviation tragedy in which they are implicated.
The case of Len Lawrence was a very different one. Len had no conditions requiring treatment. He was a fully fit and experienced pilot who had been working for British Aerospace since 1989 when he experienced and recorded his first ‘fume event’ – the presence in a plane’s onboard air system of toxins. In the most serious cases, these toxins are organophosphates identical to those responsible for deaths and brain damage among agricultural workers.
On the 29th of November 1991, just as his aircraft reached take-off speed, the flight deck filled with hot acrid fumes that were so dense it was impossible to see the instruments and controls and impossible to breathe.
Both Len and his captain were blinded by the fumes as, their eyes and skin burning, their aircraft began to ascend at over 160 mph. Only willpower and long experience enabled the captain to feel his way among the array of instruments for the ‘dump valve’ control, which would evacuate the tainted air from the system.
The incident was over in about fifteen seconds, and both pilots soon regained their eyesight, enabling them to commence emergency mayday procedures with Air Traffic Control and safely achieve a forced landing.
This was by no means an isolated experience, as evidenced by the fact that British Aerospace and others later entered into a secret settlement agreement with victims of aircraft fumes. In the course of an Australian senate inquiry in 1999, a spokesman for British Aerospace admitted: ‘There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that there is a general health issue here. The number of people who have symptoms indicates that there is a general issue. With the weight of human evidence and suffering, which is quite clear, there must be something there.’
Len himself experienced a series of these events, the last in 2004, when he was co-pilot to a recently-retired Civil Aviation Authority flight operation inspector.
Len recalls that he and the pilot were aware of an oily smell. What followed was and remains a blank. The plane had descended to five hundred feet above Amsterdam – take off or landing altitude – before they were able to pull it out and return to the correct flight path.
Both men were still suffering from mental confusion, and this time it didn’t go away.
The next day they were flying together again when they received an instruction to reroute their Italy-bound flight to Switzerland. ‘Both the captain and I were unable to process the information being given,’ says Len. ‘That was my last ever flight before I resigned. I could not, and indeed still cannot, think clearly enough to fly.’
Having helped to avert a number of potential disasters caused by the ongoing mechanical fault and the airlines’ failure to fit air quality sensors to their aircraft, and selflessly retired when he felt he was no longer up to the job, it might be thought that his employers owed him some respect and appropriate treatment for the damage he had sustained in their employ.
Instead, Len was sent to a psychiatrist, who ignored both the symptoms and the chain of causation, declaring Len to be ‘mentally ill’ and in need of pharmaceutical drugs.
There was no mystery about the real causes of Len’s problems. As the Australian senate enquiry had been told five years previously, ‘The source of the odours has been identified as primarily Mobil Jet Oil II leaking past oil seals in the engines and or APU unit (Auxiliary Power Unit) into the air conditioning system.’
In the case of organophosphate poisoning, the psychiatrist’s action was not merely one of standard incompetence and drug pushing. It is recognised that pharmaceutical drugs are inclined to react with the existing toxins to cause cell damage and develop even more poisonous compounds, so are the last thing that should be prescribed.
As a ‘mental case’, Len was confined to a psychiatric hospital by the Official Solicitor to the High Court and held there for more than a year, during which time, to add insult to injury, his assets and savings to the tune of £45,000 were disposed of illegally by barristers and solicitors .
He lost his home and his marriage before the British Airline Pilots’ Association came to his rescue, bypassing the official solicitor and referring him to the Civil Aviation Authority’s psychiatric advisor, Professor Gordon Turnbull FRCP, FRCPsych, who immediately took Len off the drugs and arranged for him to receive long overdue specialist toxicology treatment for organophosphate poisoning.
Len Lawrence is clearly a survivor. He has lived through industrial poisonings, multiple losses, corporate and official obstruction and efforts by psychiatrists to suppress and silence him. Not only is he still with us, but he continues to fight for the exposure of cover ups and crooked deals that affect us all through his website: https://lenlawrence.wordpress.com/