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My Experience With Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

My Experience With Carbon Monoxide Poisoning


February 4, 2020

I am writing this article to share my experience and to help give pilots a real life perspective of how fast carbon monoxide poisoning can creep up on you. I went up on a flight with my IFR student, Ken in his Dakota to do some hood work.

The winds were strong and gusty and it was turbulent out. Every now and then there would be a strong gust of wind that would push exhaust fumes into the plane which is not uncommon with wind like this. It wasn’t a strong, overwhelming smell and it was nothing out of the ordinary from what I have experienced in over 28 years of flying. There was a carbon monoxide detector on the instrument panel in plain view, so we could always keep an eye on that just in case.

On the way to the practice area I noticed a breeze in the plane that I didn’t notice the last time we flew a few days earlier. I asked Ken if he had a vent open and he said no. I checked the door, baggage door and the vents and they were all closed. I don’t remember it being as cold in the plane the last time but didn’t think any more about it.

About 20 miles west of the airport we began multi-tasking drills, which included many turns and varying aircraft configurations. Because of all the turning and reading during this lesson, students tend to get dizzy. When it is turbulent outside, it tends to make things worse. Ken mentioned that he was a little dizzy and asked if he could take the hood off and take a break. I said, of course. He apologized and said he usually doesn’t get motion sickness.  I told him it was common with this lesson and the turbulence isn’t helping.

Part of me wondered if it was possibly carbon monoxide, even though there wasn’t a strong smell of exhaust and the detector showed everything was good. I was thinking it would probably be better to head back just in case. I opened the window and the overhead vent and said that we should go back and we can just do it another day when things are more calm. I said I am actually starting to feel a little dizzy too from being bounced around so much. This was about 30 minutes into the flight.

On the way back to airport, I asked if he was ok to land or if he wanted me to do it and he asked if I would mind doing it because he was still feeling off and he was struggling to find the runway. On the way back, we both checked out the carbon monoxide detector which was brand new and showed no change. My head didn’t really feel much different than it would on a turbulent day but I did feel a little dizzy too. We didn’t really have any sense of danger at this time.

I landed the airplane, perfect as usual! As I taxied off the runway, I felt more dizziness. I said to Ken that I am dizzier now and it doesn’t feel like the dizziness from turbulence. I said that I think we may have carbon monoxide poisoning, even though the carbon monoxide detector isn’t showing any. I said that this just feels different. Ken taxied back to his hangar where we shut down. He kept apologizing and saying he usually doesn’t get sick and I said again, that I don’t think it’s him.

I got out of the plane, zipped up my coat and as I was turning toward Ken, he stumbled a bit getting off the wing. I asked if he was ok, and he said he still felt a little off. He started to take the tow bar out and I told him to just stay put for a bit and take a few deep breaths.

Walking to the front of the plane, we hooked up the tow bar. As he was walking to the wing, he didn’t look right. I put down the bar and went up to him and asked if he was ok. He then started wobbling and I caught him and kept him from falling. I laid him on his back and his body started to lightly shake. I kept my hand under his head. You could tell he was about to pass out by the look in his eyes.

One of the airport staff happened to be in the village hangar next to us. I know him well and did his instrument training too but suddenly I couldn’t think of his name, so I just yelled out HEY! He popped his head out and I said to call an ambulance. He asked what was wrong and I said carbon monoxide poisoning. I knew it had to be because I felt off too.

Ken snapped out of it about 30 seconds or so later. He sat up. I said to just sit for a bit but he said he was fine now and stood up. 20 seconds later he went back down. I told him the ambulance was on the way. 2 more times he stood up with the same result. The fourth time, I was a little more demanding and told him that I am getting dizzy just keeping his 237 pound body from falling and that if he gets up again, we are both going to be on the ground. He stayed sitting on the ground with me.

About 2 minutes later the ambulance had arrived. I explained what happened & told them I would like to be checked too, just in case. Walking to the ambulance, I noticed symptoms that I didn’t notice until that moment. My feet were numb from the ankles down and my hands and lips felt the same. My hands were shaking similar to Ken, this lasted for about 3 hours. A headache soon followed which lasted all night.

The ambulance guys said that with anything over 12% carbon monoxide, it is recommended that you go into an oxygen chamber. Neither of us wanted to sit in a tent for 24 hours. They said we would still be fine but it may take a day or two to get back to normal levels. Kens carbon monoxide level was at 26% and mine was at 19.8%. Maybe Ken was breathing heavier, because of training, I don’t know. If I was only 6% less and he lost it only a couple minutes after getting out of the plane, I am sure I would have soon followed. I thank God that I had enough mental function to get us back safely. Ken later told me that he was struggling to understand the instruments on the way back and that’s why he asked me to fly. He also didn’t remember taxing back or shutting down.

This wasn’t so easy to notice, especially with a brand new carbon monoxide detector saying that we were safe. My advice is to spend the $160 on one of the portable electric detectors because they are much more sensitive and accurate than the cheap $10 one that could have killed us. If you smell fumes and you are dizzy, get back to the airport. It literally took 15 minutes from the time the dizziness started, which appeared as motion sickness, to the point where one of us couldn’t function.

Another 10 minutes, and we would have both been unconscious on our way back to the airport. Ken was going to travel with his family this weekend. The effects of what we experienced on a small child or a woman could have been much worse and no one would have noticed since most kids commonly fall asleep while traveling. Someone was looking out for us and his family.

Joe Standley – Pilot Flight Training Courses

Disadvantages of accelerated IFR training at home vs away from home

An organized IFR course with a good flow is important

The thought of having someone travel to you for your training seems appealing at the surface, but there are some disadvantages. One of the disadvantages of having an instructor come to you for your training is organization. In order to have an organized course, the instructor should be familiar with the area where the training will be done.

We are familiar with our area and have put together a program with a flow that works best for your training and will allow you to get the most value for each flight. Everything is close, allowing you to practice all different types of approaches in various different types of airspace. It would be more difficult for an instructor to work out a good flow for your training in an unfamiliar area, creating a less efficient training program for you.

Instructor availability to finish your training

Another disadvantage to an instructor flying to you for your training is flexibility. If there is a delay in training due to a day or two of bad weather preventing you from finishing in 10 days, your instructor may end up having to reschedule a time to come back to finish, deserting you before you finish, costing you more money and an additional airline ticket for the return flight.

By training here at our location, it gives us more flexibility. We don’t have to worry about catching a flight home, or finding another flight home or charging you more money for waiting. We are already home and can do other things while waiting out the weather. We can start up again right away and get you finished without stretching out your training longer than needed. Since we are able to do other things and are not tied to a hotel room waiting, the weather delays don’t cost you money.

Examiner flexibility is important to finishing quickly

Examiner availability is important too. If you have a Checkride scheduled and it turns out there is a delay due to needing an extra day or two, or because of weather, how flexible will an examiner at your location be? What if your examiner is already booked for the next week or two? Getting an examiner that doesn’t know us or get steady work from us to be flexible enough to give you priority will be difficult. You’re a one time student to them and you will get rescheduled when they can get to you.

Our examiner understands you are coming from out of state and that you are on a tight schedule. Our examiner is willing to make you a priority when it comes to scheduling to get you finished as fast as possible.

Additional costs for training at your location

Cost is a factor also. When you have a instructor come to you, the cost of the hotel and transportation fall on you. In addition to that, you will usually pay more for the training due to tying up the instructors time completely. If they are able to stay longer due to weather delays, it will cost you more for their time also.

You will have hotel costs for yourself if you come here but you will be in the middle of town with every type of store available within walking distance so you could save on the rental car if needed. We can also pick you up from the hotel and drop you off when we are done. You will also save on the additional costs of training or delays.

A distraction free environment is important

One of the most important reasons to do your training away from home is that you are putting yourself in a distraction free environment. By staying in a hotel, you will be more likely to keep on track and study and prepare for your next day of training. Without outside distractions you will accomplish more and get more rest, improving your chances of success.

Choosing the right accelerated IFR training program

Choosing a 10 Day IFR training course

Not all 10 day instrument rating course providers are created equal, many of them care more about getting your money and moving on, than properly preparing you for success. When we developed our accelerated IFR program, we talked with an FAA examiner in detail about what they’ve seen from accelerated course applicants. We did this because we wanted to be better than the rest. The examiner had done several Checkrides with applicants that have used very well known accelerated course providers for their training.

The examiner said that many applicants from some popular accelerated training programs were not properly prepared and were signed off before they were ready. One applicant came to their Checkride without knowing how to use a VOR. How good do you think the instruction was if the instructor didn’t recognize that the student didn’t understand the basics required for IFR navigation? Another applicant was asked to demonstrate something using equipment he had in his plane and he didn’t know how to use it. The examiner reminded him that he was required to know how to use everything in his plane. He told the examiner that the instructor didn’t teach him because it was broken on the simulator. It wasn’t broken in the plane, so why didn’t the instructor teach him?

If the instructors are not teaching these basic things that are required for applicants to know, then what else are they leaving out? Why are they signing people off for their Checkride if they are not ready? What we learned from this is that details are important. We’ve known it from the beginning and pride ourselves on the details that make you a better pilot. We want you to pass, but we won’t just teach the bare minimum just to get you out the door. We give you the detail you need to be better than average. This is what you should be looking for in any type of training.

What your course should include

The accelerated IFR course provider should use experienced instrument instructors that are comfortable flying in IMC and have no problem flying in IMC with you whenever possible. Flying in actual IMC, in an actual airplane whenever possible will prepare you for real world IFR flying faster than anything else.

You want to find an instructor that is teaching full time because they enjoy it. These are the instructors that usually take pride in what they do. Many instructors are there just to build hours to get a job for the airlines. Their true passion is not your success, but building hours as fast as possible to get out and start their airline career. A full time instructor who does it because they like it, cares about their reputation enough to  protect it.

You don’t need a fancy place to learn but you need structure. Everything has to be organized so you know exactly what to expect each day of your training. Study material should be provided for training and it should be easy to understand. Assuming that one place is better than another because they have a big fancy building, isn’t necessarily true. The fancy buildings cost a lot to maintain and those costs are usually passed on to you. If they aren’t getting you in and out as fast as possible, how are they going to pay for the fancy building? You want someone who cares more about your success than keeping the assembly line going.

You should demand to be held to high standards. If you go into this trying to get by on the bare minimum, then you will set yourself up for failure. You will also end up being an unsafe pilot who makes bad decisions which could put your life at risk. Strict, focused and detailed instruction will make you a much safer pilot. If you’re looking for fluff and someone to tell you what you want to hear then you’re not going to find the right program.

Your success is our goal

We want to be the best accelerated IFR course provider out there. We are focused and detailed. Our structured program is designed for your success. We will immerse you in your training and use every moment we can to teach you everything you need to know. We will constantly review your weak areas until they are strong. We want you to go home happy. We want you to be totally comfortable and feel safe flying IFR. We value you as a customer and will give you our best. We don’t sacrifice quality and won’t sign you off until you are ready and safe.

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