View Full Version : AA109 LHR > LAX Returning to LHR because 'passengers suffering equilibrium'

27th Jan 2016, 15:29
American Airlines Flight AA109 London Heathrow to LAX has declared a mid-air emergency with 'several crew and passengers suffering equilibrium'.

Got as far as Iceland before the decision to abort was made.

American Airlines Flight AA109 London Heathrow to LAX declares mid-air emergency with 'several crew and passengers suffering equilibrium' - Mirror Online (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/american-airlines-flight-aa109-london-7257277)

American Airlines (AA) #109 ? FlightAware (http://flightaware.com/live/flight/AAL109)

27th Jan 2016, 15:43
Don't think they went to Iceland, looks to me like they are returning to LHR:

Flightradar24.com - Live flight tracker! (http://www.flightradar24.com/AAL109/8a5e052)

Here's a Twitter feed on the situation:


27th Jan 2016, 15:53
"...suffering equilibrium"

Shucks! I used to have that happen all the time during my layovers in Crawley.

27th Jan 2016, 15:55
Surely they mean lack of equilibrium.

27th Jan 2016, 16:00
Headline now changed to "several crew and passengers taken ill".

Presumably a sub-editor with a more balanced education. :O

27th Jan 2016, 16:19
Suffering what? Sounds like old Father Jack Hackett on one of his off days.

27th Jan 2016, 16:30
Cannot be that serious. They opted to forego diversion to Keflavik/reykjavic in favour of flying another hour and a half back to LHR.

27th Jan 2016, 16:34
One has to wonder what kind of "emergency" this was. Deciding they had an emergency, they decided against Keflavik, something like 70 or 80 miles away and opted for Heathrow, something like 1200 miles and 2.5 hours distant.

27th Jan 2016, 17:00
WTF is equilibrium? Being a qualified First Aider and from a medical family, i have never heard that used.

27th Jan 2016, 17:20
Maybe they suffered from dizziness.

Trash 'n' Navs
27th Jan 2016, 17:46
A friend at the airport said 9 people were reported as "unconscious" prior to landing.

27th Jan 2016, 17:59
WTF is equilibrium? Being a qualified First Aider and from a medical family, i have never heard that used.

Yup I aint never heard of that either. The trauma registrar I live with doesn't have a clue either... not in the context of the article anyway.

27th Jan 2016, 18:32


In UK some people refer to those symptoms as vertigo.


27th Jan 2016, 21:00
This seems to be the tweet with the 'equilibrium' diagnosis:

Lee Gunn

Several crew and several passengers suffering with equilibrium, scheduled time of arrival in LHR is 5pm @flightradar24

6:42 AM - 27 Jan 2016


27th Jan 2016, 21:25
Only from the Daily Mail, but "cabin crew collapsed" and then, after arrival back at LHR, all baggage "held for checks"?

Los Angeles-bound flight returns to Heathrow due to medical emergency | Daily Mail Online (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3419458/Los-Angeles-bound-flight-returns-Heathrow-medical-emergency-involving-passengers-crew.html)

Peter H
27th Jan 2016, 21:27
delirium + typo + spell-checker perhaps?

Hotel Tango
27th Jan 2016, 21:35
But, not knowing what the cause was, and therefore the possibility that more crew (including FD crew) and passengers could become ill, why all the way back to LHR? That decision puzzles me.

27th Jan 2016, 22:26
Also reported 45 minute before anyone boarded and that was for "testing" before paramedics boarded.
What tests would be required for luggage - security or contamination?

Would the need for specialist testing require LHR landing?

28th Jan 2016, 00:58
But, not knowing what the cause was, and therefore the possibility that more crew (including FD crew) and passengers could become ill, why all the way back to LHR? That decision puzzles me.

Would the need for specialist testing require LHR landing?

Could have been minor at first prompting a return to destination, which then deteriorated further and significantly

Mass hysteria?

It's hard for me to think of a scenario with multiple serious illnesses where you would press on back to LHR. Maybe the folks were stable and, as speculated, got significantly worse approaching top of descent.

As far as holding the baggage for 'testing', I wonder if that was really the case. :confused:

I was a pax on a flight that had an RTO a few years ago and the bags were not available until over 12 hours later. Unfortunately, I was already in another country by then. Sounds like the RTO aircraft was towed to the maintenance hangar with pax but not bags offloaded hoping to quickly fix the engine and attempt another departure. Then the flight cancelled when the problem turned out to be more than a compressor stall.

On the other hand, maybe the AA109 plane was quarantined until a norovirus outbreak could be ruled out.

28th Jan 2016, 06:10
This story brings back memories of the reputation the 777-200 got at a certain airline for making crew members ill/dizzy, most especially "down the back". It almost became an article of faith that if you worked at Door 4 you would become ill/breathless at some point of the flight and crew would happily share stories about how bad it always was on the triple....As I recall it no other airline reported having the same problem, the ride quality and air circulation was looked at in some detail but I don't think any definitive cause was found and over the years the story had died a death and the "epidemic" disappeared...wonder what's going to happen on my next flight....

It certainly gets entertaining when everybody "knows" a certain aircraft makes you sick/dizzy/breathless if you work down the back, and then one person falls genuinely ill......

28th Jan 2016, 07:39
One wonders if it is that syndrome where one person faints/falls ill and others then believe that they have the same symptoms?

28th Jan 2016, 08:06
Like this???

28th Jan 2016, 10:37
The fact that the baggage is being checked seems to indicate they think it was something noxious. That could be simply something leaking from cargo, but it could also be an attempt at something nefarious.
Screening is very tight for explosives, but how many gases/chemicals could be smuggled on which would incapacitate/kill crew and pax? It's another vector which should be (is probably being) looked into.

28th Jan 2016, 11:17
Seems very odd they did not land in Iceland or one of the multitude of airports between Iceland and LHR.

28th Jan 2016, 11:32
If multiple passengers and/or crew were, in fact, unconscious, I would agree.

28th Jan 2016, 11:36
Probably not "odd" at all, especially if those involved in the decision making process considered matters carefully and decided the best solution wasn't to throw the aircraft on to the nearest runway.

(I suspect none of us here have a scooby doo what went on, but I'd put money on the newspaper reports being somewhat inaccurate)

28th Jan 2016, 13:29
The weather could have been completely shyte at keflavic.

Hotel Tango
28th Jan 2016, 14:48
Keflavik wx was not an issue.

28th Jan 2016, 14:51
Reports of a "burning" smell....

American Airlines crew reported BURNING smell on aborted Flight AA109 | Daily Mail Online (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3419458/Los-Angeles-bound-flight-returns-Heathrow-medical-emergency-involving-passengers-crew.html)

28th Jan 2016, 15:01
Doubt it was a declared Mayday which requires land as soon as possible at the nearest suitable alternate. Kef right under his First Officer's window might have been the answer.

They were squawking 7700 on the way back and I would guess an emergency was declared since it was a U.S. carrier. We've had this discussion on other threads, recent guidance for us is to declare the emergency if in doubt since it gives you more latitude as far as compliance issues, e.g. diverting to an airport not in your ops specs, landing overweight etc.

28th Jan 2016, 15:05
Could it be (and I am certainly no expert) That American may have better access to engineers and ground handling back at 'base' (in this case Heathrow) and better options to transfer passengers onto alternate flights from LHR for those who wanted to? If the situation on board is considered stable enough and the cabin is still secure then why divert to an unknown airport when you can just go back to where you started (fuel permitting)?

Granted we don't know what went on and all of our comments are purely speculative on here but if the affected passengers were not worsening, if I was in that situation I would want to return to LHR.

28th Jan 2016, 16:08
There have been a number of crass posts mocking the term 'equilibrium' . Maybe nobody has considered labyrinthitis, which I understand is a viral infection of the middle ear. I assure you, from personal experience, is extremely unpleasant. Getting the aircraft on the ground was a very wise decision.

28th Jan 2016, 17:46
Looks like no one was transported according to this London Ambulance tweet:


Ian W
28th Jan 2016, 17:57
Depends on what the doctor on board told the captain. If people have baro-trauma affecting their ears and causing vertigo (which I think is what was meant in the original reports) then rapid descent and the associated rapid pressure changes may not be advisable (or advised). A slow cruise descent with slow pressure change and minimum maneuvering may be the ideal. If you are going to take over an hour or so to get down and there doesn't appear to be an acute emergency, then choice of 'suitable airport' is wide open and return to an airport which is a maintenance base starts to figure higher in the decision making. They were not far out of Scottish airspace so 7700 and direct LHR in slow descent seems eminently sensible. If things did change there were several suitable airports en-route LHR for an emergency descent and land.

You can bet that the captain was not without advice :ok:

28th Jan 2016, 18:05
AA has diverted before to KEF as have the other legacy carriers in the US as KEF is one of the most common airport being as a suitable airport for ETOPS.

The PIC requested to divert back to LHR, even though Icelandic ATC had suggested KEF. The weather was not an issue. It would be very interesting to see why they went back to LHR

28th Jan 2016, 18:18
If burning was reported, then similar symptoms have been seen before with oil leaks from the HP compressor into the AC system.

28th Jan 2016, 18:55
It would be very interesting to see why they went back to LHR

Best guess - it's not unusual in similar situations for medics (possibly remote) to say that the medical condition(s) are not serious enough to necessitate an immediate landing but if an individuals condition deteriorates further a diversion may be required.

In the case of the AA flight I'd say that might well be a pretty compelling argument for not continuing westwards, and after discussion with "company" a decision was made to return to somewhere where the flight could be most easily "rebooted"....whilst retaining the option to drop into the likes of Kef, Glasgow or Manchester if required etc.

In any event it's perhaps also worth considering that given that we now know that no-one was admitted to hospital after landing so just maybe events weren't quite as dramatic as the papers would make us believe.

28th Jan 2016, 19:57
The aircraft concerned spent nearly 24 hours at LHR, then took what was presumably a test flight down to Cornwall and back;

N723AN - Aircraft info and flight history - Flightradar24 (http://www.flightradar24.com/data/airplanes/n723an/#8a87561)

It was scheduled to operate AA9276 LHR-LAX today departing at 13:00 but this was delayed and it didn't depart until 15:43;