THE grieving mother of a British Airways flight attendant who died without warning on a long-haul flight has demanded the authorities release tissue samples that could show whether he was poisoned by toxic fumes.
Warren Brady, 46, died as he slept during a flight from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Heathrow last year. His family and friends fear his death may have been caused by years of exposure to contaminated air circulating in aircraft cabins.
The lawyer representing Brady’s family is preparing to launch legal action on behalf of a further 60 flight attendants, pilots and frequent flyers who claim they were made ill by toxic cabin fumes.
The Sunday Times has also learnt that some cabin crew have worn smoke hoods to protect themselves from suspected fumes in the cabin. Last Sunday two flight attendants on a BA flight from Newcastle to Heathrow put on smoke hoods because of an acrid smell in the cabin that left them feeling light-headed and with sore eyes. After landing they and two other crew members went to hospital for medical checks.
In February a coroner warned airlines they must take action to prevent passenger deaths from toxic fumes in cabin air. In some extreme cases, a papr respirator or similar gas mask may have been used for protection as well. In a landmark report, Sheriff Stanhope Payne, the senior coroner for Dorset, said people regularly exposed to fumes in planes faced “consequential damage to their health”.
Nearly all commercial airliners have a system that compresses air from the engines and uses it to pressurise the cabin. However, if seals inside the engine leak, heated oil can enter the air supply, contaminating it with compounds called organophosphates, which some experts believe can lead to long-term neurological and respiratory conditions.
One BA flight attendant, who believes she has been exposed to several “fume events” and is concerned that smoke hoods are available to crew but not passengers, said: “Every time we’re going to work and stepping on a plane it’s like we’re playing Russian roulette with our lives.”
Brady’s mother Sheila says she wants to know why he didn’t come home (Julian Andrews/Sunday Times)Brady, a flight attendant with 19 years’ experience who had appeared as an extra in EastEnders and the James Bond film Skyfall, was found dead in a bunk bed on the BA flight on June 22. Because it was a long- haul flight, there were two separate cabin crews and he was sleeping before his next shift.
Close friends subsequently told Frank Cannon, a lawyer for Brady’s family, that he had complained of severe headaches, chronic fatigue, numbness in his limbs and mood swings. A preliminary pathologist’s report indicated he suffered from a cardiac arrest.
Cannon wants tissues and fluids taken during the post- mortem to be examined by a specialist in America for traces of organophosphate poisoning.
However, despite making the request to west London coroner’s court nine months ago the samples have not been released. Earlier this month he contacted the pathologist handling the case but the issue remains unresolved.
“I’ve never come across such a lack of cooperation from a coroner or from a pathologist,” Cannon said.
Chinyere Inyama, the senior coroner for west London, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment.
Brady’s death came three days before his father, Tim, died of cancer. They had a joint funeral. Brady’s mother, Sheila, 80, said: “There is no closure. I say to him [Warren] every night before I go to bed, ‘What happened to you, son? Why didn’t you come home?'”
Dr Michel Mulder, a specialist aviation doctor, said Brady’s death appeared to be a “classic case” of so-called aerotoxic syndrome or organophosphate poisoning. “The symptoms he describes fit the bill for chronic exposure to organophosphates,” he said.
Last weekend about 30 close friends gathered near Brady’s home in Hove, East Sussex, to mark the first anniversary of his death. One of them, John Osborne, 47, said: “He was supposed to be my best man this year in August. For everyone who knew him there is something missing.”
Among Cannon’s clients is a frequent flyer who claims he suffers the ill-effects of contaminated air after flying three hours a week between his home in Europe and the UK.
A British Airways Boeing 747 (Alamy)Of the 60 legal cases on Cannon’s books, about 20 involve BA staff or passengers. Others are from carriers including Ryanair, American Airlines, US Airways and Cathay Pacific. Unite, the union, is representing 17 cabin crew working for UK airlines who claim to have suffered from aerotoxic syndrome.
BA said it was “deeply saddened” by Brady’s death, adding: “We have seen no medical evidence to suggest a link between his passing and cabin air.”
It said the company’s policy has always been that cabin crew should wear smoke hoods if they detected a smell that they believed might result in breathing difficulties.
Airlines for America, an organisation representing the main US carriers, said studies have “consistently concluded that cabin air meets or exceeds health and safety standards”.
Cathay Pacific said there was “insufficient evidence” to show whether there was an association between contaminated air and health problems.
Ryanair said any legal claims would be “vigorously defended and defeated”.