Former flight attendant says toxic fumes in plane caused debilitating illness

by: Tom Regan Updated:

WARM SPRINGS, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News investigated how potentially toxic fumes entered planes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Now a former flight attendant from Georgia is talking about her frightening experience.

Jan Williams, who used to work for former Delta connection carrier Pinnacle Air, says she suffered serious medical problems caused by fumes.

Williams contacted Channel 2’s Tom Regan after seeing his report earlier this week. She told him her exposure to toxic fumes has had a devastating impact on her health.

“You hear my voice? I've been like this ever since that day,” she told Regan.

Williams said she was in perfect health when she first put on her uniform at Pinnacle Air, but just two years later, in May 2010, everything changed.

Williams said the pilot noticed a hydraulic leak on their plane. He said the problem had been fixed and they were ready to take off.

“As we got pushed back, the fuselage got filled with smoke,” Williams said. “We could not breathe in back. It was full of fumes.”

But, she says the flight eventually took off.

[2 INVESTIGATES: Flight attendants say air inside planes can be toxic]

“It did get better, but it left me with a cough and a blister in my mouth,” she told Regan.

Williams said the next day, the pilot had the same plane fumigated for mice infestation. She worried about residual exposure to passengers and flight crew. She became hypoxic and delirious.

“I don't remember driving home that night. I was on the couch for three days,” she said.


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Her condition grew worse -- problems with breathing, balance, memory and hand tremors.

“After this exposure, I was not myself anymore, I used to sing. I lost my voice, so I can't do that anymore, I used to go to work with my animal. I can barely walk to the barn,” she said.

Williams said the company refused to acknowledge any connection between her illness and the fume events.

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She was terminated for not returning to work following medical leave. She says her dream of working as a flight attendant became a nightmare of ongoing health problems.

“I go to work one day, and the next I can't work anymore,” she said.

Pinnacle Air, which held all the records in this case, is no longer in business.

Delta Airlines told Regan it doesn't operate the type of aircraft involved.

During our investigation, we dug through FAA service reports and found three airline crews received emergency medical care at Hartsfield-Jackson because of fumes in the past year. We also found more than 100 possible fume events on commercial airlines. In nine cases there were reported illnesses.