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U.S. Navy Pilots Suffering from Oxygen Deficiency Hampering the Fight Against ISIS

Oxygen deficiency issues have forced Navy pilots into hyperbaric chambers, temporarily sidelining them in the fight against the Islamic State.

In the last four months on board the USS George H. W. Bush in the Persian Gulf, there have been two instances in which Navy pilots required treatment after suffering hypoxia-like symptoms, due to failures of environmental control systems built into the aircraft, Military.com reports.

Navy Capt. James McCall stated that the first incident took place in February, when the crew of an E/A-18 Growler was hit by an issue with air supply and pressurization, prompting a quick landing onto the aircraft carrier.

The USS George H. W. Bush is outfitted with a $250,000 dollar hyperbaric chamber that is shaped like an egg and extends about six to seven feet in length.

“The decision was made to put them in the hyperbaric chamber, with the resolution of their symptoms immediately,” McCall said. “And [they were kept] in a down status for a period of time per medical protocol. Both those aircrew are back flying today.”

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers have traditionally been used to help treat Navy divers, but it turns out the systems help pilots, as well.

The second incident occurred in April shortly after a flight takeoff. This time, after the pilot sensed a change in environmental controls, he immediately turned around and returned to the aircraft carrier, at which point doctors moved him into the hyperbaric chamber for recovery.

So far, the Navy has been incredibly lucky that both lapses of environmental controls happened relatively close to the aircraft carrier. Had the pilots been flying over ISIS positions in Syria or Iraq, these dangerous events could have turned into crises.

Service testimony obtained by Bloomberg News shows that these “physiological episodes,” oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression are increasing every year in all Hornet models and also E/A-18 Growlers.

Cockpit decompression, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, can cause seizures, chest pain and loss of consciousness.

Navy officials have told the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services that the problem constitutes the “No. 1 safety issue.”

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