Over-the-counter drugs contribute to fatal crash

These May 2003 Accident Reports are provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, they are intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Piper Super Cub.

Location: Ashland, Maine.

Injuries: 1 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Substantial

What reportedly happened: The pilot was supposed to maneuver at a low altitude to track animals. He had approximately 21,491 hours in single-engine aircraft, and usually did the job by flying a few hundred feet above the ground. Witnesses stated that the aircraft descended below the tree line and crashed, killing the pilot.

The post-accident examination of the aircraft did not reveal any pre-impact mechanical malfunctions or lack of fuel. The autopsy detected that the pilot had recently ingested at least three different over-the-counter medications that contained sedating antihistamines. The levels of substances in the pilot’s blood were at least five times higher than the levels expected with a typical maximum single over-the-counter dose of the medications. The pilot’s wife said that he had a cold, and was taking several over-the-counter medications to treat the symptoms.

Probable cause: The pilot’s impairment due to over-the-counter medications, which resulted in a loss of aircraft control while maneuvering.

Aircraft: Cessna 150.

Location: Montgomery, Ala.

Injuries: 1 Minor.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: During cruise flight at 4,500 feet mean sea level, the airplane collided with a flock of geese. After the impact the airplane began to vibrate violently and the pilot decided to make a precautionary landing. He spotted a field bordered by trees and attempted to land there. Just before touchdown, he realized that the field was a marsh and very rough.

He applied full power with the intent of doing a go-around, however, the engine did not respond promptly and the aircraft had trouble climbing. The pilot then attempted to land in a clearing to the left of the marsh. While turning in the direction of the clearing, the landing gear and left wing clipped the trees bordering the field.

The airplane flipped over onto its back. The post-accident examination of the airplane revealed the right and left wing spars were buckled.

Probable cause: The in-flight collision with birds that resulted in a partial loss of engine power and subsequent in-flight collision with trees while maneuvering for an emergency landing.

Aircraft: Cessna 182.

Location: Washington Court House, Ohio.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot/mechanic stated that the aircraft had a shimmy in the nose gear and, in order to troubleshoot the issue, he intended to do taxi tests. However, a witness reported that he took off in the aircraft and flew the pattern.

The aircraft landed normally on the runway, but approximately 200 feet into the rollout, the nose gear collapsed. The aircraft flipped onto its back.

Examination of the airplane revealed that the upper link of the nose gear torque knee had failed. Grease and oil film were observed on the fracture surface, consistent with a pre-existing crack.

The pilot/mechanic said he had not detected the crack during the preflight inspection. He also told investigators that he had performed the last annual inspection on the airplane about 11 months prior to the accident. However, he could not produce the aircraft logbooks.

The pilot surmised that a crack formed after the previous inspection of the airplane, but was covered by the grease and oil from the engine. The pilot added that the airplane was frequently operated out of rough airstrips.

Probable cause: Failure of the nose gear assembly.

Aircraft: Piper Cherokee Six.

Location: Calhoun, Ga.

Injuries: 2 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: During the preflight weather briefing, the commercial pilot was advised numerous times about the adverse weather conditions along his route of travel. He was told that visual flight rules could not be maintained along the route and there were active tornado watches.

The pilot in command had approximately 2,980 hours of experience and the passenger was pilot-rated as well. The aircraft departed, but never arrived at the destination. There were no distress calls from the pilot. The wreckage was found a few days later in a grove of trees.

The damage was consistent with controlled flight into terrain.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to heed the preflight weather briefing, which indicated that marginal VFR to IFR conditions prevailed over the route with embedded thunderstorms and rain, and his decision to continue VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in the flight impacting terrain.

Aircraft: Air Tractor AT-503A.

Location: Pontiac, Ill.

Injuries: 2 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: A certificated flight instructor was receiving instruction in the turboprop airplane. The CFI providing instruction held numerous certificates, including Airline Transport Pilot, and had accumulated over 7,000 hours. The pilot taking instruction had approximately 3,000 hours and had obtained approximately 2.1 hours of ground instruction for the make and model of the accident aircraft prior to the fatal flight.

One witness described the airplane flying swath runs prior to making a wing over maneuver and entering a spin. Several other witnesses describe the airplane being in a slight nose down spin prior to it impacting the ground.

Inspection of the airplane failed to reveal any pre-existing failure/malfunction that would have resulted in the loss of control.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain adequate airspeed, which resulted in an inadvertent stall/spin.

Aircraft: Beech Bonanza.

Location: Farmingdale, N.J.

Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot, who was attempting to fly from Sarasota, Fla., to Bradley, Conn., held numerous certificates, including Airline Transport Pilot.

After about five hours into the flight, he asked to land at an airport in order to refuel. Witnesses who saw the aircraft descending told investigators that its propeller did not appear to be turning very fast.

The pilot did not report any problems to air traffic control. The airplane crashed two miles from the airport.

Examination of the airplane’s fuel system revealed less than one gallon of fuel. There was no evidence of fuel spilled at the crash site.

Probable cause: The pilot’s delayed decision to refuel, which resulted in fuel exhaustion and the subsequent loss of engine power.

Aircraft: Cessna 140.

Location: Suffolk, Va.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was attempting to practice a simulated forced landing over a wheat field. He reduced power and added carburetor heat.

He brought the airplane down to an altitude where the wheels were just above the top of the wheat stalks, and then added power for a go-around. He misjudged his altitude during the go-around, and the wheels made contact with the top of the wheat.

The contact with the wheat made the airplane decelerate and it sank into the wheat. The aircraft flipped onto its nose.

Probable cause: The pilot’s misjudgment of his altitude from the wheat field during the execution of a go-around.

Aircraft: Bellanca Citabria.

Location: Houston.

Injuries: 1 Serious, 1 Minor.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: A student pilot and a CFI were attempting to take off from a runway. During the initial climb, the flight instructor reduced the power to simulate a partial power emergency.

The student pilot hesitated to take corrective action. The flight instructor told the student to abort the maneuver and increase power. The student complied. According to the instructor, when the power was increased, the engine started coughing.

The flight instructor took control of the aircraft and aborted the takeoff. There was not enough runway remaining to make a forced landing and the airplane struck a ditch at departure end of the runway.

Probable cause: The flight instructor’s poor decision to initiate a simulated emergency without having a suitable area for a forced landing.

Aircraft: Cessna 182.

Location: Hatton, N.D.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The instructional flight was conducted for training in preparation for a single engine sea airplane rating.

The dual student held a private pilot certificate with a single engine land rating.

The flight instructor stated that the student initiated a step taxi across the lake.

The intention was for the student to enter a step turn as they approached the opposite shore line. The instructor reported that the dual student initiated the turn with aileron input only, no rudder input. The instructor told the student three times to apply rudder input for the turn.

When the student did not apply rudder after the third request, the instructor took control of the aircraft. The instructor was concerned that increasing the rate of turn would risk capsizing the aircraft.

He reduced the power and applied right rudder in an attempt to impact perpendicular to the shoreline. This was unsuccessful and the aircraft hit the shore at an angle. The right wing struck a tree.

Probable cause: Failure by the flight instructor to maintain clearance to the tree. Contributing factors were the delayed remedial action by the flight instructor and the tree.

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