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‘Suicidal Pilots are becoming main cause of fatalities’

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‘Suicidal Pilots are becoming main cause of fatalities’

Old 15th Dec 2022, 15:21
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This is how I show it on picma.info....
What the public and non-technical aviation industry sees:


What only those inside the industry know:

So the "flight operations community" still needs to remove the red section, which is primarily approach and landing events including many runway excursions, if we are not going to see pressure mounting to go down the "getting rid of pilots will prevent human error accidents" route.

Last edited by slast; 16th Dec 2022 at 08:42.
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Old 15th Dec 2022, 15:51
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slast, A very eloquent diagram - and absolutely true. Any suggestions as to how to get this into the mainstream debate?
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Old 15th Dec 2022, 16:39
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Bergerie1 - thank you. As you know picma.info is about trying to reduce what Earl Weener at Boeing called "crew-caused accidents". It dates from 2014-16 and I'm currently revising it to include events since then such as Air India at Kodhikode, the 744 at Bishkek, Pegasus at Istanbul, Air Maroc at El Hoeima, FlyDubai at Rostov, PIA at Karachi, and several others which avoided being catastrophic by pure good luck, as was the case with Air Canada at Halifax.
But I also want to make it more inviting both to pilots to and to non-pilot "interested parties" in the aviation world, and include some of the more responsible journalists and commentators. I've had a degree of interest in that so we'lll see what happens when I get the revised version up hopefuly early next year. Any other suggestions welcome!
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Old 15th Dec 2022, 17:07
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Steve, I wish your project well, particularly if 'interested' parties can be encouraged to engage.

Unfortunately, I fear that the underlying problem is with the regulatory authorities. They seek to retain control in the face of increasing uncertainty in complex operations, the need of a Safety-II viewpoint, and inappropriate use the term human error.

"Such organizations have complex, well-developed immune systems, aimed at preserving the status quo."

Re suicidal pilot; this also requires a change of viewpoint. Was German wings an individual human issue or one of a locked flight deck door.

For the future, might the main cause of fatalities originate from regulatory safety management. Their numerical risk based approach being less applicable (effective) in a very safe industry, thus the outcome of ill-considered intervention - 'must do something' as a controlling authority, could be the greater risk than the safety events themselves.
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Old 15th Dec 2022, 17:09
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Originally Posted by T28B
notasmodnoradmin
If you can explain how being shot down by a missile (17 July 2014 over Southeastern Europe) is the 'same suspicious condition' as being lost and never found (8 March 2014 somewhere over the Indian Ocean)
I am sure that your colleagues will receive this post more favorably.
I honestly don't see the connection.
That was a polite response! My initial reaction involved a word rhyming with 'Bob'!
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Old 15th Dec 2022, 19:18
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If we can back down the outrage for a minute - the issue that needs to be addressed is what can we do (that isn't already commonplace) to prevent accidents from pilot suicide.
Commercial aviation has never been safer - that means we're doing a lot right - both in the aircraft and the pilots. The fatal accident rate is very low. Pilot suicide is nothing new - there are documented accidents for at least the last 40 years where suicide is the probable cause. As we address the other accident causes through better design and pilot training, pilot suicide has moved up the rankings as likely accident cause. I don't see evidence that the rate is increasing, but I don't think it's decreasing either - and that's the problem.
The Swiss Cheese model simply doesn't apply to a suicidal pilot - once a pilot decides that suicide is the most desirable course of action (taking a planeload of people along with), it's too late (two people in the flight deck at all times is a placebo - if the pilot flying decides to nose the aircraft into the ground during landing or takeoff - another person up there isn't going to stop it).
We need to develop better ways to identify and address mental health issues among pilots, before they get to the suicide stage.
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Old 15th Dec 2022, 20:55
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Originally Posted by tdracer
If we can back down the outrage for a minute - the issue that needs to be addressed is what can we do (that isn't already commonplace) to prevent accidents from pilot suicide.
Improve our mind reading capabilities.
The Swiss Cheese model simply doesn't apply to a suicidal pilot - once a pilot decides that suicide is the most desirable course of action (taking a planeload of people along with), it's too late (two people in the flight deck at all times is a placebo - if the pilot flying decides to nose the aircraft into the ground during landing or takeoff - another person up there isn't going to stop it). We need to develop better ways to identify and address mental health issues among pilots, before they get to the suicide stage.
That costs time and money, and will give the bean counters fits, even moreso than training.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 01:25
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Genuine question to the pros. If an airline pilot felt the need for counselling - due perhaps relationship situation, bereavment, or whatever other form of life stress - would seeking it be considered a sign of a responsible person focussed on their ongoing good health? Would they be confident that it would be viewed in this light in proceeding to declare it on their next medical certificate renewal process? Or might there be a consideration that it wouldn't be a "good look", and that the good old "stiff upper lip" is the right approach? Do airlines offer counselling as part of their employment benefits? If so, is taking it up considered good form?
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 03:15
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Suicide is neither foreseeable nor preventable. It is a fact of life. Any solution will have to be technical, and that means producing airplanes that cannot be deliberately flown into the ground.
How soon depends on the amount of press this subject generates. But it will happen.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 07:40
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Originally Posted by ferry pilot
Any solution will have to be technical, and that means producing airplanes that cannot be deliberately flown into the ground.
How soon depends on the amount of press this subject generates. But it will happen.
I'm not so sure.

"I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" - that didn't end well for Lion Air and Ethiopian.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 08:21
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One of the issues that need to be addressed re mentally fit to fly is the bullying tactics of management ignoring a pilots physical as well as mental health.
Not only the trident crash but I witnessed one of the managers of the time trying to force a new command take an aircraft out of home with a technical deficiency that was not allowed. We were then put onto airport standby just for spite as there wasn’t a serviceable aircraft at Heathrow.
It was similar during the IRA bombing campaign when we were volunteered to fly Belfast and BALPA had to step in as our life insurance wasn’t valid flying into a war zone. The truth about the number of bombs placed on BEA aircraft was and is still withheld.
It wasn’t the only airline that I witnessed threats to keep an unwell pilot flying especially with fatigue considerations due to paring the crew numbers below a safe number.
I remember two suicides and a couple of physical arguments including one on the flight deck.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 08:49
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I think that an element of the problem for all suicides is the disjoint between expectations of what life will bring and the reality from which the escape is only seen as death. People attracted to flying are probably 'thrill seekers' who actively seek out challenging situations and relish the excitement of resolving them, physically. The problem they face in the profession is that neither passengers nor management relish that and want flying to be not exciting, boring. The skilful pilot will use his knowledge and experience to make it boring, sometimes that is not enough and that disjoint arises, when it does there are various release mechanisms, dangerous and challenging sports, drink and in extremis mental illness.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 10:21
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I''m not sure about the current status in other countries but I seem to recall that many years ago (early 70s?) there was an issue with some F/Os becoming concerned that there was a Captain who seemed to be drinking to excess, including while on duty. They did not want this to be pursued through compamy channels for obvious reasons and the upshot was that BALPA set up a "Pilots Advisory Group" to provide help. However exactly how problems were resolved I don't know. I think it was copied by some other large associations but tomwaht extent these still exist I don't know, and I imagine it relied on having decent relations with the airlines which is probably more difficult these days.

Re beardy's "skilful pilot" comment, I recall being told that "the superior pilot uses his superior judgement to avoid ever having to use his superior skills!"
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 12:12
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Originally Posted by slast
I''m not sure about the current status in other countries but I seem to recall that many years ago (early 70s?) there was an issue with some F/Os becoming concerned that there was a Captain who seemed to be drinking to excess, including while on duty. They did not want this to be pursued through compamy channels for obvious reasons and the upshot was that BALPA set up a "Pilots Advisory Group" to provide help. However exactly how problems were resolved I don't know. I think it was copied by some other large associations but tomwaht extent these still exist I don't know, and I imagine it relied on having decent relations with the airlines which is probably more difficult these days.
Where I work, there is a program in which anybody working in the company can make a report when he/she thinks somebody has an alcohol problem.

Those reports are looked at by a expert and when there are multiple reports on one individual (they never react on 1 or 2 reports), that individual is invited to participate in an evaluation by medical and psychological staff.
You can refuse, but then the report goes to the company. Of you do take part, the companult will not hear anything. When it is determined the individual has a alcohol problem, treatment is proposed, again voluntary, but again if not taken, company is informed.
When you do enter the treatment, you are reported sick but the reason is not mentioned and can't be inquired by the company. It will not be on any record and others just know you are sick (thats also by law, companies can't ask what is wrong with you).

And that system works quite good, there are some false positives, but a few and there are people who are really helped.
They are starting a similar program for people who have mental issues, so they can be helped without fear of losing the job or being judged.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 12:39
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Originally Posted by the_stranger
Where I work......
Where is that?
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 12:54
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Originally Posted by ferry pilot
Suicide is neither foreseeable nor preventable
I think we pilots should stop to think we know everything there is to know on the subject. Wouldn't that be smarter?

Suicide is a public health problem, not an aviation problem. When it comes to putting a human on the flightdeck, there is a possibility you take the problem to the flightdeck, and then it's an aviation problem. So the first step would be to avoid this from happening.

There are programs out there that try to deal with the issue (ie peer support program).

Otherwise there's a lot we can shut down in the world... how about a nuclear plant with a person with mental health working in there?

The question is not "does it exist and is it a cause?"
The question is "how do we prevent it?"

And let me finish with one tiny correction to the quote above: suicide IS preventable.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 16:31
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During my extremely long upgrade I had a fellow countryman alcoholic rotate before V1 as he thought it was a clever predicament to put me in. He had failed his command course 6 months before. Above 10,000ft I read the riot act with a few choice Anglo Saxon words..over the top with hindsight for the non British trainer…
‘Said copilot was sacked but he turned up at the fleet chiefs home on a Sunday and confessed; was immediately reinstated, sent to an extremely expensive clinic at the companies expense and given a job in engineering (very clever guy). After 2 years he was offered an Airbus course but foolishly he demanded another command course and was given a full pension.
I thought it was a very considerate course of action by the company; my first lot sacked a captain caught shoplifting; another mental health condition imho.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 16:32
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Originally Posted by BraceBrace
I think we pilots should stop to think we know everything there is to know on the subject. Wouldn't that be smarter?

Suicide is a public health problem, not an aviation problem. When it comes to putting a human on the flightdeck, there is a possibility you take the problem to the flightdeck, and then it's an aviation problem. So the first step would be to avoid this from happening.

There are programs out there that try to deal with the issue (ie peer support program).

Otherwise there's a lot we can shut down in the world... how about a nuclear plant with a person with mental health working in there?

The question is not "does it exist and is it a cause?"
The question is "how do we prevent it?"

And let me finish with one tiny correction to the quote above: suicide IS preventable.
Excellent remarks .
But is suicide really preventable ? partially yes but not all the time , Yes solutions exist , peers programs is one , making it part of CISM is another , but the core idea is make it possible to talk to someone who is not going to pull up your licence or pass judgement..
Detection is another one but teven then if the person refuses to engage or follow the peers advice , you're stuck. , or taking the well publicized Germawings case , the persons who knew did not speak up by fear to make it worse ( i.e. losing the licence) or were prevented by law ( German strict system where mental illnesses is stiil tabu from the post Nazi times)
As to what you can do, even as a peer, to prevent someone with apparent mental issues to go to work, it is extremely difficult. Having in your company a CISM program in place and working well ( the 2 are not necessarily always there at the same time ) is in my opinion the best . CISM is now well developped and relatively accepted worldwide , and not only in aviation ( although we developped it globally after the United DC10 accident in Sioux City in 1989 ) is one solution . It works extremely well after an accident /serious incident and it CAN work to prevent suicide,or at lest suicidal thoughts. But it will not cover all cases . . As you correctly said suicide is not an aviation problem it is a public health one and some cases will get undected .


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Old 16th Dec 2022, 17:30
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I tried to help a guy who was seriously depressed with visits to his factory and phone calls..I went to his flying club on a Sunday to have breakfast with him..he didn’t turn up as he had gone to his factory and put a bullet in his head..whilst It affected me for many years his partner said he had obviously planned it for a long time, getting hold of a gun and ammunition, his partner’s in the business had heaped a lot of work on him as had his lodge which he felt he couldn’t get out of without letting everyone down.
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Old 16th Dec 2022, 20:54
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I will say it one more time. Suicide is a hard, cold, irrefutable fact of life. It can happen anywhere, any time and under any circumstances. Human beings kill themselves.
The risk to passengers of suicide by pilot will remain until the pilot no longer has the means to kill himself and others while in control of the airplane. If there was any other way
out of this we would have done it by now.

Last edited by ferry pilot; 16th Dec 2022 at 21:08.
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