28 JAN 2013: Two BA pilots have died within weeks of each other after complaining about being exposed to toxic oil fumes on passenger planes. Both claimed they had been poisoned by the fumes that can contaminate cabin air and which regularly force pilots to wear oxygen masks.

Karen Lysakowska, who died January 14, was buried last Tuesday, Richard Westgate's funeral was just four days earlier. He died on December 12. Both pilots were 43.

Prior to his death Westgate had instructed his lawyers to sue BA for alleged breach of health and safety guidelines.

His lawyers say they will attempt to prove in court the existence of 'aerotoxic syndrome,' a chronic physical and neurological condition they insist will one day be viewed as 'the new asbestos.' Westgate's lawyers claim it will be a 'moment of truth' for the aviation industry.

One medical specialist believes thousands of pilots are currently 'unfit to fly.'

If you're sceptical about litigation lawyers and paid medical experts, far more concerning are official records from the Civil Aviation Authority which reportedly - astonishingly- show that pilots and crew have to put on their oxygen masks at least five times a week to combat suspected 'fume events'.

Lysakowska, reputedly one of the most talented pilots of her generation, had begged bosses at BA to address the issue after she was grounded with ill health in 2005, according to the Sunday Express.

According to the paper, in 2006, she wrote, "My objective is to get well and carry on flying and not enter a protracted legal battle because of the impact exposure to contaminated air has had on my life but if I have to I will."

She later developed cancer, and did not go ahead with suing BA.

Westgate voluntarily grounded himself in 2011 after suffering whiplash in a car crash.

Aviation specialist Dr. Michel Mulder said Westgate had by then become concerned about his health and memory, suffering persistent headaches, chronic fatigue, loss of confidence and mood swings.

Mulder, who also flew for KLM and suffered similar symptoms, said Westgate did not tell his employer because he feared losing his job.

He sought private medical advice to avoid any blemishes on his health record.

Westgate, who was not married and had no children, died in Amsterdam, where he had been having treatment.

He had been there since last April after diverting to the Dutch city while on his way to Swiss suicide clinic Dignitas, after giving up all hope of finding a cure.

Frank Cannon, a pilot and one of Westgate's lawyers, said BA is liable under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations because it fails to monitor the quality of air on board planes.

Despite calls from pilots and the Aerotoxic Association, BA and all other airlines do not install air quality detection systems.

Instead, they rely on the results of disputed Government commissioned studies, the most recent of which concluded in 2011 that cabin air was safe.

Cannon is now trying to force a groundbreaking British inquest into Westlake's death in which BA would be asked questions about aerotoxic syndrome.

"'I see this as an impending tsunami for the airline industry it’s been hushed for and ignored for so long." He said.

A spokesman for BA said: "Our thoughts are with the families of the two pilots at this very sad time and we offer our sincere condolences.

"We are not aware of any legal claims relating to the two individuals. It would be inappropriate for us to comment or speculate upon the individuals' cause of death."

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Jen Savedra

Jen Savedra is the founder and editor in chief of Travel Industry Today with  a long career and considerable experience in various sectors of travel and tourism. She is dedicated to producing a publication that differentiates itself from the pack. One that pulls no punches, and - along with being a forum for news and ideas - is easy to navigate and always fun to read.

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