Regulators are investigating two separate incidents in which Cathay Pacific captains reported a loss of vision during flights. In both incidents, the first officer took the controls and the flights continued without issue. The stricken pilots were required to undergo a series of medical checks before being cleared to return to duty.
Hong Kong’s Air Accident Investigation Authority (AAIA) confirmed it is looking into a pair of disconcerting mid-air incidents involving Cathay Pacific Captains. According to the agency, in both cases, the captains became unable to be “performing flying duties” after reporting vision impairment during the international flights. Each time, the co-pilots were forced to take command of the aircraft.
The two Cathay Pacific flights involved, included a January 26th Sapporo New Chitose Airport (CTS) to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)-bound flight and a Cathay flight from Perth Airport (PER) to HKG on February 21st. In both cases, the senior officers reported vision loss before declaring an emergency and handing off control to the first officer. According to the AAIA preliminary report, in at least one of the incidents, the captain sought emergency medical treatment from a health care worker on the aircraft after complaining of symptoms.
“The AAIA will continue to collect and study all relevant information in order to determine the circumstances and causes of the serious incidents,” an agency spokesperson said in an April 23rd statement. “More in-depth investigation and analysis have to be conducted before any conclusion can be drawn.”
Cathay Pacific officials said they are cooperating with the ongoing investigation, but noted that passengers were never in danger. The carrier also said the pilots involved would be required to submit to a complete physical evaluation before being allowed to return to duty.
“Safety is in the consideration of everything we do and in each case, the operating crew acted in accordance with Cathay Pacific’s standard operating procedures regarding pilot incapacitation,” an airline spokesperson told the South China Morning Post on Thursday.
The incidents have captured the imagination of the public and the attention of government officials in Hong Kong. Authorities say investigations into the incidents could take up to a year to complete.
“We can’t jump to conclusions at the moment,” Hong Kong lawmaker and commercial pilot Jeremy Tam Man-ho told reporters this week. “This could be because of sudden illness to the pilot, or eye problems, or blood pressure problems. It is for the authority to investigate the cause of the incidents. This is definitely not the first incident in which the first officer has had to assume control of an aircraft. But suffering a sudden loss of visual acuity is, I would say, a rare incident.”
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