TORONTO - Researchers are putting out a call to passengers who were on an Air Transat flight that almost crashed in 2001 to take part in a study of people who have experienced a traumatic event.
The Toronto-to-Lisbon flight ran out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean in late August 2001, but the pilots managed to glide to safety on a small island in the Azores.
One of the researchers, Dr. Margaret McKinnon, was on the flight, which carried 306 passengers and crew, and she says the sickening feeling of "I'm going to die" lasted for 30 minutes as the plane's systems shut down and crew prepared passengers for ditching into the ocean.
"Imagine your worst nightmare - that's what it was like," McKinnon, who's now part of the mood disorders program at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, said in a statement Monday announcing the study.
The work will be led by the Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, in partnership with the University of Toronto and McMaster University in Hamilton.
It's being described as the first study of its kind to involve a large group of people who all experienced the same traumatic event under the same conditions.
The goal is to better understand the brain circuitry involved in reliving traumatic events, emotions and memories, and to gain insight into why some people are more susceptible to post-traumatic stress than others.
Scientists will interview the passengers, some of whom may be asked to have an MRI scan to examine their brain patterns as they describe the period when the flight was in distress.
"Even though all these passengers experienced the same traumatic event, they each bring a different brain to the event," the institute's Dr. Brian Levine said in a release.
"Our study will generate important clues as to why individuals are affected differently by the same experience."
The study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and will take place at neuroscience labs in Toronto.