This question is inspired by the question "What can I do to save my life if oxygen masks fail to drop down? Is it possible?" One of my first thoughts upon seeing that question was: do you need to do anything, or will you survive regardless of what you do?

Note that I'm not asking about situations like Helios Airways Flight 522, where the crew became incapacitated due to hypoxia, resulting in a crash which killed all on board. I'm wondering if a passenger has ever gotten hypoxia and suffered from health problems (or death) as a result.


2 Answers 2


The passengers on Helios 522 were incapacitated or died due to hypoxia. Those masks in the aircraft only have enough oxygen to sustain the passengers while the plane descends to a safer altitude, or about 12 minutes. Helios 522 was on autopilot at 34,000 feet for 2 and a half hours. The autopsy showed that the passengers were alive at the time of the crash, but it could not determine if they were conscious. The aircraft was unpressurised at an altitude as high as the peak of Everest, the crew were incapacitated, so it follows that the passengers would have been as well, despite the fact that the autopsy showed that they were still alive at the time of the crash.

Now, let's suppose that they had survived the crash. They were hypoxic for 2 hours, which means they would have suffered brain damage and would be suffering with the long term effects of that (Insomnia, amnesia, etc) as well as injuries sustained from the crash itself.

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    $\begingroup$ The question I really meant to ask was: have any passengers been injured due to hypoxia despite the plane successfully making a safe landing? But you answered the question I actually asked, so I'm giving you the accept. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2017 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ More than 60 people have climbed Everest without oxygen(with one who stayed in the death zone for more than 24 hours). There are no documented cases of brain damage among them. I'm not sure the passengers would have suffered brain damage from just 2 hours in the death zone. $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2017 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Retiredaccount: The people who climbed Everest sans oxygen spent months acclimating to high altitudes beforehand to prepare themselves. The passengers on HCY522 probably did not. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Feb 13, 2019 at 4:31
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    $\begingroup$ Also, HCY522 was considerably higher than the peak of Everest; said peak is at the approximate equivalent of FL290, while HCY522 was cruising at FL340. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Feb 13, 2019 at 4:39

Yes, people have died due to depressurization of commercial aircraft, as well as military. There was a famous case of a Learjet where everyone became unconscious from a depressurization and the plane kept flying until it ran out of fuel. A more recent incident, a couple of years ago in a TBM 900 where the plane flew on with the crew and passengers unconscious or dead, until they passed over Cuba and crashed near Jamaica.

In my time as an Air Force pilot I had one explosive decompression, but as I was in a fighter I already had my oxygen mask on so it was no big deal. In the B-52 we wore O2 masks during any highly critical phase of flight, low level, air refueling, landings etc. We also had to have helmet on, so mask on or hanging off our face, whenever we were above certain altitudes (can't remember now) or when one pilot left the flight deck.

I had more insidious decompression in my pressurized Cessna skymaster but that was during my air force years so I was used to always checking gauges, and I caught the problem before the cabin altitude went high enough to be dangerous.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I would consider anyone on either of those example flights "commercial airline passengers." $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Mar 21, 2017 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ This does not answer (the intented) question: Did somebody get injured or died, while the plane landed successfully. In the Helios case, all were alive, but incapacitated when the plane crashed. $\endgroup$
    – Lenne
    Jul 22, 2017 at 11:53

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