British Airways pilot Robert Brown, 47, killed his ex-wife, Joanna, in a savage hammer attack in 2010 after a bitter, costly divorce battle. Brown had been due to fly a Boeing 747 jumbo jet from Heathrow to Lagos the next day but suddenly rang in sick at the last minute. Brown said in a court against himself, “I didn’t want to be another husband who kills his wife and then himself and nobody cares. I thought if I got to work I could crash an aircraft, or fly to Lagos and crash it there. I want to make a statement.“
Brown was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder after convincing the jury he was suffering from extreme stress due to marital breakdown. Joanna’s close friend Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, 48, said there were “chilling similarities” between the breakdowns of Brown and Andreas Lubitz. Barkworth-Nanton said, “When I saw the picture of Lubitz in his running kit, it sends a shiver down my spine. Brown was also a competitive runner and indeed they both ran for their airlines. But tragically the similarities don’t end there. Neither should have been allowed to fly and put the lives of their passengers at risk.“
Barkworth-Nanton said the current practice of assessing the pilot every 12 months was not stringent enough. Brown’s last assessment was in December and he killed Joanna in the following October. Brown apparently mentioned the stress of his divorce at the assessment but then was given the green light to fly. There was no follow-up by the airline to see whether his stress was getting worse, and Brown’s colleagues whom he confided in about his state of mind kept silent because they were worried they would be suspended and lose their incomes.
The Brown’s case, along with the Germanwings disaster, indicates the airlines are not doing enough to monitor the mental conditions of their crews.