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St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton researcher Dr. Margaret McKinnon was amongst a group of passengers who experienced 30 minutes of unimaginable terror over the Atlantic Ocean in the 2001 Air Transat Flight 236. The group’s experiences helped researchers to discover of a potential risk factor that may help predict who is most vulnerable to PTSD.

The study, conducted by researchers at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and Baycrest Health Sciences, is published online this week in the journal Clinical Psychological Science – ahead of print publication. It is the first to involve detailed interviews and psychological testing in individuals exposed to the same life-threatening traumatic event.

Heading off on her honeymoon in late August 2001, Dr. McKinnon’s flight departed Toronto for Lisbon, Portugal with 306 passengers and crew on board. Mid way over the Atlantic Ocean, the plane suddenly ran out of fuel. Everyone onboard was instructed to prepare for a water landing, which included a countdown to impact, loss of on-board lighting and cabin de-pressurization. About 25 minutes into the emergency, the pilot located a small island military base in the Azores and glided the aircraft to a rough landing with no loss of life and few injuries.

“Imagine your worst nightmare – that’s what it was like,” explains Dr. McKinnon, who initiated the study as a postdoctoral fellow at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute. Dr. McKinnon is now a clinician-scientist at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and Associate Co-Chair of Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University.

“This wasn’t just a close call where your life flashes before your eyes in a split second and then everything is okay,” recalls Dr. McKinnon. The sickening feeling of “I’m going to die” lasted an excruciating 30 minutes as the plane’s systems shut down.

Following this incident, Dr. McKinnon and her colleagues at Baycrest – including Dr. Daniela Palombo and Dr. Brian Levine – recruited 15 passengers to participate in a study that helps psychologists to better determine PTSD vulnerability.

To learn more about this research study:

Watch

Dr. McKinnon speaks about her experiences on CHCH Evening News and Global News.

Read

Read about the story in:

The Hamilton Spectator
CTV News

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