A Captain suffering a suspected stroke caused the hasty diversion of an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Dreamliner on Monday. The flight was en route from Paris to Tokyo when the incident occurred. The aircraft was over Russia at the time and diverted to Novosibirsk.
Boeing 787-8 Captain suffers a stroke, plane diverts
According to The Aviation Herald, the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner was operating flight NH216 from Charles de Gaulle through to Tokyo Haneda. The aircraft was around 660 kilometers northeast of Novosibirsk when the Captain suffered the stroke.
Flight tracking website RadarBox.com has the flight leaving Paris around 21:45 local time on Sunday evening. After tracking northeast over Germany and the Baltic Sea, the aircraft crossed into Russia for the long flight east. The aircraft (JA814A) spent the majority of the flight cruising between 11,500 meters and 12,500 meters.
Eight hours into the flight, the plane was just west of the Yenisei River when according to The Aviation Herald, the Captain “showed indications of a stroke with sudden headache and facial asymmetry.” The First Officer declared an emergency and decided to divert to the nearest airport with a runway capable of handling the Dreamliner. There were no passengers onboard the flight, just seven crew on a ferry flight.
RadarBox tracking shows the aircraft dropping speed and making an abrupt southwest turn towards Novosibirsk. The Dreamliner landed safely just before 10:00 local time on Monday morning. A specialist neurological resuscitation team met the flight, and the ANA Captain was conveyed to hospital.
After 23 hours on the ground, JA814A recently departed Novosibirsk and was tracking east towards Japan at the time of publication.
Strokes are taken very seriously by air safety regulators
Any inflight incident involving flight crew is serious. But safety regulators are especially alert to strokes because it incapacitates a person. Suffering a stroke, even a minor one, is usually grounds for seeing the pilot grounded. In the United States, a stroke will see a pilot out of the cockpit for at least two years. That’s because there is an increased incidence of a recurrence during that time. But the FAA will potentially readmit stroke sufferers to the pilot ranks after that time and after subjecting them to a battery of neurological and cardiac tests and evaluation.
Because commercial passenger flights like NH216 have a minimum of two pilots onboard, there’s a buffer zone for getting the plane safely onto the ground should one of those pilots become incapacitated, as occurred on Monday over Russia.
The real risk is with flights featuring just one pilot. An incident around ten years ago focused the FAA’s attention on strokes. A United States Senator called Ted Stevens was onboard a de Havilland Turbo Otter amphibious seaplane when it crashed, killing him and four other people. While it was never exactly determined what happened, investigators strongly suspect a stroke felled the pilot. He was reportedly unresponsive for several minutes before crashing.
Around the same time, in an unconnected incident, a helicopter pilot managed to make an emergency landing after suffering a stroke inflight. The pilot had another stroke four years beforehand.
Simple Flying has approached All Nippon Airways for comment and to inquire about the Captain’s wellbeing. The airline has not responded before publication.