American Says Drop in Cabin Pressure Sickens 6 People on Jet

An American Airlines jet lost partial cabin pressure in flight, sickening six people on board, and made an emergency landing in Ohio.

Flight 547 had climbed to 28,000 feet from Washington’s Reagan National airport en route to Chicago when two attendants reported feeling dizzy, Tim Smith, an American spokesman, said today. The captain deployed oxygen masks as a precaution as four passengers also reported feeling ill or faint, Smith said.

“We believe this is a cabin pressurization issue, which can have multiple causes,” Smith said in an interview. A recorder that tracks data from systems and instruments on the plane was later removed and sent to an American maintenance base in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for analysis.

Pilots are trained to respond to any unexpected change in onboard pressure by descending as quickly as possible to about 10,000 feet, said Bill Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. Supplemental oxygen isn’t required at that altitude.

Two passengers and one attendant on the twin-engine Boeing Co. 737-800 jet went to a hospital to be checked out, accompanied by a third passenger, Smith said. A flight attendant was admitted to the hospital for observation, he said.

Flight 547 landed without incident at Dayton, Ohio, at 8:20 a.m., about an hour and 10 minutes after takeoff, Smith said. It carried 126 passengers and six crew, he said.

The plane’s Washington departure was delayed by about 30 minutes after mechanics for Fort Worth, Texas-based American conducted an unspecified inspection, Smith said. He couldn’t confirm whether the pressurization system was involved.

Gradual Leaks

Partial depressurizations happen “once or twice a month” on commercial airliners as leaks develop gradually around seals or in the pressurization system, Waldock said. The pressure loss may be so minor that it doesn’t require a diversion and emergency landing, he said.

“If it happens slowly, it feels kind of euphoric, like you’ve had a couple drinks” of alcohol, he said. “Most people recover pretty fast. Oxygen from the cabin masks is going to help a lot. It feeds in oxygen that’s mixed with outside air and it’ll help people breathe easier.”

An American MD-80 flown to Dayton picked up all of the original passengers and departed for Chicago O’Hare at 12:57 p.m. local time. Mechanics flew on the plane to Dayton to check out the affected 737-800.

American is a unit of AMR Corp.

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