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Suicide and Murder-Suicide Involving Aircraft

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BACKGROUND: This is a systematic review of suicide and homicide-suicide events involving aircraft. In aeromedical literature and in the media, these very different events are both described as pilot suicide, but in psychiatry they are considered separate events with distinct risk factors.

METHODS: Medical databases, internet search engines, and aviation safety databases were searched in a systematic way to obtain relevant cases. Relevant articles were searched for additional references.

RESULTS: There were 65 cases of pilot suicide and 6 cases of passengers who jumped from aircraft found. There were also 18 cases of homicide-suicide found involving 732 deaths. Pilots perpetrated 13 homicide-suicide events. Compared to non-aviation samples, a large percentage of pilot suicides in this study were homicide-suicides (17%).

DISCUSSION: Homicide-suicide events occur extremely rarely. However, their impact in terms of the proportion of deaths is significant when compared to deaths from accidents. There is evidence of clustering where pilot suicides occur after by media reports of suicide or homicide-suicide. Five of six homicide-suicide events by pilots of commercial airliners occurred after they were left alone in the cockpit. This, along with a sixth incident in which active intervention by a Japan Air crew saved 147 lives, suggests that having two flight members in the cockpit is potentially protective. No single factor was associated with the risk for suicide or homicide-suicide. Factors associated with both events included legal and financial crises, occupational conflict, mental illness, and relationship stressors. Drugs and/or alcohol played a role in almost half of suicides, but not in homicide-suicides.

Kenedi C, Friedman SH, Watson D, Preitner C. Suicide and murder-suicide involving aircraft. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2016; 87(4):388–396.
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Keywords: intentional crash; mental health; substance abuse

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Auckland Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand

Publication date: 01 April 2016

More about this publication?
  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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