Flying stools

Leading American aircraft accident investigator Dr Norton Jungelson is once again in the news. Dr Jungelson’s forensic talents and huge experience were called into action by the American carrier US Airways, which recently had to have an unruly passenger restrained on a flight between Boston and Portland, Oregon.

The passenger had been unable to gain access to any one of the aircraft’s six toilets, because these were being used by dozens of other passengers who had eaten an “out of date” flight meal. Within minutes of each other, these passengers had suffered attacks of precipitous hyperacute diarrhoea. The time between eating the meal and the sudden onset of uncontrollable diarrhoea was estimated to be 40 minutes. Pathologists have described the bacterium responsible, E coli delhium turbii, as “one of the fastest-moving bugs in the business”.

Warned of the impending colonic crisis only by underwear-scorching eruptions of yellowish gas, panic-stricken passengers hastily began unstrapping themselves and staggering up the aisles to the toilets. Many clutched their stomachs. This became near chaos as the now desperate people tried to force themselves into the toilets, some clawing their way over others in their urgency to get relief.

The airline meal that caused the sudden diarrhoea is alleged to have been a fish and prawn vindaloo curry that, for unexplained reasons, had passed its “serve-by date” by more than two months. It was eaten by 98 of the passengers, several of whom complimented the flight attendants on the quality of the meal.

When the “instant” diarrhoea struck, one of the affected passengers, later identified as Jamie D Bennican, an aisle-seated 145kg aromatherapist returning home to Portland, became desperate that he could no longer contain himself. Hanging by his arms from the overhead luggage compartments, he kicked out one of the aircraft’s economy-class windows.

The effect of the sudden explosive depressurisation was so severe that the passenger in the window seat, a Korean businessman, Lee Soh Ching, was bodily sucked out of the aircraft into the freezing upper-limit stratosphere. Once the Korean businessman was out of the way, Bennican pulled down his pants, forced his naked rear out of the window frame and relieved himself into the 500-knots slipstream.

Bennican’s obese lower torso effectively resealed the window and the aircraft automatically began to repressurise. An alarmed Bennican found he was unable to unplug himself. No amount of pulling on his legs and arms by cabin staff and others managed to get him free.

Unfortunately, the captain of the airliner had partaken of the same primordial curry. Without any warning, he suddenly jumped up out of his seat, dragging his uniform trousers down as he tried to get to the crew toilet. Unhappily, at that moment the aircraft flew into some clear-air turbulence and the captain had his bowel accident over the radios and electronic navigational equipment. Entirely on his own, the co-pilot managed to initiate a maximum-rate descent. He knew that if he could equalise the aircraft’s exterior and interior pressures, he’d be able to open some cockpit windows.

The equalisation of air pressures were a lifesaver for Bennican. As the seal around his body was suddenly broken, he was able to slump back into the cabin. At this stage, he apparently lost control of his emotions with the same violence as he had just ejected his vindaloo.

For both his own and the safety of his fellow passengers, Bennican then had to be unfortunately restrained, said an airline spokesperson.

In a countering statement issued by his attorney, Bennican said he had no option but to kick out the window. The airline was entirely to blame. What did they expect him to do? Relieve himself into a sick bag?

Jungelson was contacted by the airline, which is facing a multimillion-dollar civil claim from Bennican for supplying the meal that caused the diarrhoea and for frostbite caused by his buttocks being exposed for about nine minutes to the sub-zero temperatures outside the aircraft. Gangrene had set in and he had lost more than 11kg of cellulite.

Jungelson, himself a barstool-enfolding 147kg, said that what had happened to Bennican was further proof of the callous discrimination practised by airlines against obese people.

US Airways is counter-suing for damage to the window and the rear-mounted starboard engine of its aircraft, which “flamed out” after ingesting about two-thirds of Bennican’s evacuations. The so-called “hot section” of this engine had to be completely overhauled. Also, the entire tail section of the aircraft had to be steam-cleaned.

After more than 10 days of searching by police, assisted by members of the National Guard, the Korean businessman is yet to be found.

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