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Passengers Take Legal Action After Smoke Onboard Thomas Cook Aircraft Forces Emergency Landing

Lawyers Say Answers Are Needed And Warn Of The Potential Impact Of Smoke Inhalation And Carbon Monoxide Poisoning


By Dave Grimshaw

Passengers are taking legal action after an Airbus A330 aircraft operated by Thomas Cook and carrying hundreds of British holidaymakers back home to Manchester was forced to make an emergency landing in Bermuda after reports of a fire on board.

Smoke was reported in the cabin of Thomas Cook Airlines Flight 149 from Cancun, Mexico on 1 May 2013. The aircraft was carrying 338 passengers as it flew over the Atlantic Ocean. The plane then underwent an emergency landing in Bermuda where the plane was then evacuated.

Specialist aviation lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have been instructed by a growing number of passengers onboard.  A number of passengers report that they were ‘terrified’ and the law firm are investigating reports of carbon monoxide poisoning onboard the aircraft.

Jim Morris, a former RAF Boeing AWACS pilot and specialist aviation lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, has personally handled cabin smoke incidents and has direct knowledge of the dangers associated with these types of emergencies.  He said: “Thankfully the aircraft landed safely and everyone who was onboard was evacuated, but it is crucial that the investigators quickly identify exactly what caused the smoke and publish a report of the findings. 

“Reports from passengers suggest there was smoke entering the cabin from underneath passenger seats due to an electrical fault with the on board entertainment system. This is extremely worrying.  The exact cause of the smoke has yet to be confirmed but any smoke in the cabin of an aircraft during flight is terrifying and for the passengers onboard this was clearly a very traumatic experience from which a number of passengers are still suffering.”

Danny and Liselle McEwan from Bircotes, Doncaster, travelled to Mexico for their fifth wedding anniversary. Liselle, 33, reports that medical tests undertaken after her return home have shown that she is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Liselle inhaled the smoke and has suffered tightness in her chest and breathing difficulties. She was treated by paramedics on landing in Bermuda after her nasal and lung passages swelled up.

Liselle said: “It was an absolutely terrifying experience. About 40 minutes after takeoff the seat TVs started crackling and there was a strange smell, like TCP.  We told cabin crew as my chest started tightening but soon white smoke stated billowing from under one of the seats, and hung in the air like a white mist. 

“A number of passengers were moved and we were diverted to Bermuda as an emergency landing.  I was terrified that the aircraft was going to burst into flames and plunge into the Atlantic. It was obvious that there were many other passengers who were also terrified and suffering from inhaling the smoke.  Although the smoke kept coming out for a while there were no oxygen masks and after we were evacuated I almost collapsed and had to be treated by paramedics". 

"I have suffered serious swelling and blistering in my nasal and throat passages making it very difficult to breath.  I have had to have chest X-rays and need ongoing treatment with steroids to try and improve my breathing.  Also, the fumes that I was exposed to have left me with a very elevated pulse rate and low blood oxygen levels. 

“Recent tests to try and determine exactly what has caused my condition have confirmed that I have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.  I am completely devastated by what has happened and I am will need further tests to try and identify the exact toxins that I have inhaled, so that the full long term effects on my health can be determined.”

Liselle’s husband Danny, 28, has also suffered problems with his chest, an upset stomach and headaches since inhaling smoke onboard the aircraft.

He added: “The next day we flew back on the same aircraft which was scary in itself.  Staff told us that there was an electrical fire in the in-flight entertainment system and that an engineer from Orlando had been sent to check and disconnect the system.

“I was very worried about my wife as she was really struggling when we got off the plane. She is still unwell and we are having further tests to try and identify the toxins that we inhaled.”

Jim Morris of Irwin Mitchell added: “The impact of smoke incidents in a cabin cannot be underestimated – smoke and the associated risk of fire can be catastrophic and are treated as a serious emergency, hence the crew made the correct decision to divert and make an emergency landing. 

“Smoke can cause serious injury when inhaled and exposure can have severe consequences for an individual's health. It is possible that fumes can contain dangerous toxins which may have a lasting impact on those exposed to them. Anyone concerned about this issue should seek medical attention.

“In addition to the direct physical effects of harmful smoke, passengers quite often suffer psychiatric injury, such as PTSD, due to their experiences.  The effects of these injuries may not be immediately apparent and can sometimes take weeks to manifest, but their impact can be very serious.”

Irwin Mitchell also represents a large number of passengers who were injured in three separate emergency landing incidents in October last year. Smoke in the cabin of two Thomas Cook-operated Boeing aircraft forced emergency landings at Glasgow Airport and in Dublin while another Boeing aircraft, this time operated by Jet2, had to abort its takeoff in Glasgow because of smoke onboard.

Morris concluded: “It is extremely important that the aviation industry learns lessons and takes all measures necessary to minimise the risk of similar incidents occurring again.  These four incidents were serious and the effects upon the health of those who suffered injury may be long lasting."

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in relation to Air Accident Claims