Boeing 737-800, similar case as the Air Malaysia lost over the Indian ocean, and even the Lufthansa A320 depressed pilot. Air Malaysia had two pilots, old one, tired and possibly depressed (see the video of them going trough checks, he had a lack-of-sleep hangover or something like that) and young one, who looked okay.
THE THEORY. There is something in the airplanes themselves that affects the psychological state of the pilots. We already know these in the list:
- changing time zones, long hours , irregular sleep, demanding lifestyle
- long periods of decreased air/oxygen pressure
- fumes from the APU(such as), fumes from the electronics, carpets
- electrolyte balance, saltiness taste changes at lower air pressure
The third one is still the most acute of the three, and as the fumes contain mainly nerve poisons, it needs to be seriously evaluated as an occupational hazard and safety hazard.
Altered state of thinking: lack of sleep and lowered air pressure alone are enough to alter perception and judgement. People ask: “why were they circling for 2 hours and not diverting?” Let me tell you that when your immune system, energy and oxygen delivery into brain snaps, sitting 2 hours doing nothing and waiting will fly past as if it were 15 minutes. Been there. The Air France that crashed in the Atlantic after slowly losing altitude over long period of time is another example. Record shows them reacting slowly, confusedly, during a night and after a good dinner.
The Flydubai FZ981 plane went down in a very steep dive. In the hours before that, their conversations with the tower were trivial, almost as preschoolers.
What I think additionally needs to be done is to prepare meals suitable for high altitude consumation, vitamins promoting neuroprotection and proper neurological function (about 5 or 6 B-vitamins and such), and medication improving the use of oxygen, nutrients from time to time. (Mildronate from the Sharapova fiasco, or substances from the same “Actoprotector” class.)
And the whole concept of air supply and filtering into airplanes needs to be rethought. Possibly oxygen enrichment, even. (25% oxygen) These tragedies are 100% preventable in the design and preparation phase. Commercial airlines lack the physical, nutritional and mission preparation typical for U-2 pilots. Such procedures would decrease tragic accidents, but would be hard to implement, even partially.
EDIT: As is shown time and time again, rest for the pilots needs to be provided. If you really make them work in 14-16 hour stretches, give them the ability to roam on the plane and sleep there in shifts as well. That was one of the perks in the 1950’s and 1960’s, pilots left and returned to the cockpit as they pleased. It would be easier if you employed 3 pilots instead of 2, but that is no company willing to do. I wonder why.