A report commissioned by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has found that all pilots will, at some point in their career, experience spatial disorientation, or a warped perception of direction.
The report found that pilots are commonly the victims of strange illusions, including, in some cases, feeling that they're sitting out on the wing of their aircraft.
And it suggests that more than a quarter of fatal plane crashes may have occurred as a result of the condition.
Pravda.Ru has interviewed Tarek Sardana, President of Aviation Medicine Intl Inc , and Martin Moore-Ede, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman and CEO Circadian to find out more about spatial disorientation.
Pravda.Ru: Are there any ways to prevent spatial disorientation?
Tarek Sardana: There are definitely ways to prevent Spatial Disorientation (SD) including training and equipment.
Training pilots about SD and exposing them to SD in a simulator is an excellent way of minimizing the aspect of SD. Crew coordination training is also an excellent idea for minimizing the risk of SD, especially at critical times of flight.
The design of modern aircraft can also significantly reduce the effect of SD. If an aircraft is not flying the way it is supposed to, warning systems could be set off or the auto-pilot could take over control of the aircraft until the pilot no longer is experiencing SD.
Martin Moore-Ede : Certainly there is evidence that severe chronic sleep deprivation (caused by multiple transmeridian crossings and night duty) can result in visual distortions and even hallucinations.
Such phenomena may occur in any occupation where there are prolonged periods of wakefulness, and this is increasingly an issue in 24/7 operations.
Prevention is based on having an appropriate fatigue management systems, with duty scheduling, rest policies, risk assessments, sleep disorder screening and training.
Pull the pilot off-duty and get him to sleep is the only sound approach if he thinks he is sitting on the wing.
Pravda.Ru: Are there any other professions that cause workers suffer from some mental disorders?
Tarek Sardana: All occupations can cause individuals mental health disorders. As humans, we will always be at risk of a mental health issue at some point in time.
Pravda.Ru: What shall we do if we see someone is suffering from some hallucinations which could be dangerous to his or to someone else’s life?
Tarek Sardana: If you see someone experiencing SD, you should make sure that the aircraft is flying in a safe condition and inform the individual experiencing the SD that they are incapacitated at the moment and that you have control of the aircraft. Hallucinations are not the same as SD, they are an actual medical condition/term whereas SD is a specific term for aviation related to a human working in a 3D environment.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik