Pilot believed co-pilot who died during flight was ‘just pretending’, report finds

A light aircraft (stock photo) (PA)
A light aircraft (stock photo) (PA)

A pilot continued to fly his plane after a co-pilot suffered a fatal cardiac arrest because he believed he was joking.

A report into the incident at Blackpool Airport on June 29 last year found the victim, a 57-year-old flight instructor, suffered a “sudden fatal heart attack” as the flight took off.

But his co-pilot, who knew the instructor well, mistakenly believed he was “just pretending” and so only realised there was something wrong upon landing.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch report found that had there not been another co-pilot “the outcome could have been different”.

But it said that the current health assessments required for pilots was “currently about right” and that no test or assessment could 100% accurately predict cardiac risk.

The report said the unnamed man, who had passed a medical four months earlier, agreed to join a short journey on a light aircraft around Blackpool Airport.

People who had spoken to him on the morning of the incident said he was his normal cheerful self and there were no indications that he was feeling unwell.

The surviving pilot said that during the taxi they were talking normally and recalled the instructor last saying, “looks good, there is nothing behind you”.

The instructor’s head “rolled back” shortly after takeoff, but he believed he was “just pretending to take a nap”.

It was only when the deceased pilot failed to respond upon landing that the co-pilot “realised something was wrong”.

Air ambulance medical crew, who are based at the airport, attempted to save the man but could not do so.

The Civil Aviation Authority's medical department found the instructor had likely died from acute cardiac arrest.

It said the “rarity” of such occurrences suggested current guidelines around medical checks were “about right”.