Lack of oxygen causes brain fade or incapacitation. It happened again last week when the pilot of a Cessna 400 mentally dropped out but fortunately his daughter, who was not a pilot, was able to talk to ATC. The Corvallis was cruising at FL230 and had been cleared to descend but the pilot didn’t respond.
ATC and the daughter were able to work out a descent plan and finally got the aircraft down to a more oxygenated atmosphere. Even then, it a took awhile before the pilot was really with it and able to land uneventfully.
This is the second time this year that ATC have been “hypoxic heroes.” A Lear 35 crew also dropped out of reality and were barely functional. Controllers talked them down safely and all ended well.
A few thoughts: First, FAA should reward controllers for getting pilot certificates as they become far more capable of assisting in an emergency and are much better able to understand what they’re controlling – we could have a long discussion on that point.
Secondly, these incidents should be looked at closely for the potentially deadly consequences that would likely ensure without outside intervention. Did the C400 pilot run out of O2? Was he using a cannula above FL180 where a mask really is required. What is the monitoring system to let the pilot know immediately that he or she is about to become a vegetable?
As we ply high altitudes in light aircraft, it’s essential that both pilot and equipment are up to the challenge. High altitude training is essential even if you don’t fly a pressurized aircraft above the mandatory FL250. In my view, if you’re flying anything that is consistently above 14,000 get some solid training.