New Delhi: Do the commander and co-pilot of a commercial flight need to go through a mandatory psychological test? This question has arisen after shocking actions of the co-pilot of the crashed Germanwings aircraft. But this is not the only incident prompting some in the aviation industry to call for such checks. It is now being alleged that some pilots began a misinformation campaign about an incident on an Air India flight earlier this month, creating a hijack scare. Pilots alone may not be to blame for this needless rumour mongering but there is every reason for cockpit crew to be occasionally tested on psychiatric parameters as well.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

This is what happened: A passenger fell sick on an Air India London flight on the 17th of this month. His name is Karim. The captain of the flight paged for any doctors on board. An NRI called Pankaj Singh responded to this call, alongwith a nurse. This nurse is an Indian national named Naval Prabha. The two medics began attending to the patient who was losing pulse. The doctor, Pankaj, began a dialogue with the captain of this flight about the possibility of diversion of the aircraft while simultaneously administering oxygen to the patient. The patient felt better after some time and no flight diversion was needed ultimately. The matter was solved satisafactorily. This is the version of a very senior Air India official who has examined the report made by the cabin crew and cockpit crew of this flight.

So why are we suggesting that pilots get themselves tested by psychiatrists? That is because a whatsapp message chain allegedly started within the pilot community got almost all the facts wrong. Two national newspapers – The Times of India and the Hindustan Times – also carried stories based on the version of this WhatsApp message this morning. The WhatsApp message says that one passenger complained of a medical problem on a London flight, a doctor was paged for and five people volunteered. They all checked the patient and “demanded to see the captain asap”

“Their persistence was suspect so the captain, through the cabin crew, refused to meet the ‘doctors’ either inside or outside the cockpit,” the Whatsapp message says adding they were all Pakistani passport holders and all their contact numbers were fake. The message goes on to warn pilots, saying “if you do unlock the cockpit door, then you do that at a grave risk. This appears to be a dry run by the desperadoes”.

But according to the report filed by the cockpit and cabin crew of this flight, we have already seen that two and not five people responded to the captain’s call for medics and neither was a Pakistani national. The AI official we spoke to said the airline will soon be issuing a clarification on this incident and that there was absolutely no hijack threat at any time during this flight.

This official also said he had received a copy of the Whatsapp message from a group of pilots. It is all very well for cockpit crew to be extra careful about cockpit safety in the aftermath of the Germanwings plane crash but concocting a story where none exists about a possible hijack threat seems to be taking matters too far. By throwing in the Pakistan angle, the story surely became very juicy though entirely fabricated.

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No hijack: How false WhatsApp messages about AI flight created a scare