Intoxicated pilot crashes

This February 2010 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Springfield, Ky. Aircraft damage: Destroyed,

What reportedly happened: The pilot, who had logged 1,522 hours and held commercial and CFI tickets, purchased enough fuel to fly for approximately two hours, then took off on the final leg of a multi-leg flight in night-time IFR conditions. He did not have paper sectionals or approach plates on board the airplane. He did have a GPS unit, but the software card was four years out of date.

Nearing his destination, the pilot contacted an air traffic controller and requested an NDB approach. The pilot was unaware that the NDB approach was out of service, as posted in a NOTAM. The pilot then asked for a GPS overlay of the approach, and was advised that there was none. The pilot was issued a clearance for a GPS approach, subsequently reported crossing waypoints on the approach, then announced that his destination was in sight and canceled his IFR clearance. There were no further transmissions from the pilot. The airplane crashed a half mile from the airport.

There was no fuel found at the crash site. A 375-ml bourbon bottle, which contained approximately 100 ml of bourbon, was found in the pilot’s pocket.

Toxicological testing revealed that the pilot’s blood alcohol content was 0.11%. A review of law enforcement and FAA records revealed that the pilot had been arrested for driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence on at least two occasions, only one of which he reported.

Further research of the pilot’s records by the FAA revealed that they had improperly coded the pilot’s medical application, which precluded the FAA from crosschecking information from his medical applications with the National Driver Register for potential alcohol-related motor vehicle actions. FAA processes did not independently identify at least two prior convictions of the pilot for DUI, though he had informed them of one of the events, and the FAA had not requested details of the offense reported.

The NTSB obtained the arrest report for the event reported to the FAA by the pilot, and the arrest report noted that the pilot had been driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.20%. Given the pilot’s history of multiple episodes of driving while intoxicated, and particularly given the level of tolerance exhibited by driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.20 %, it is almost certain that he was substance dependent, a condition that is disqualifying for medical certification. Had the appropriate information been requested, the FAA would have known that the pilot was likely substance dependent and could have taken appropriate action, particularly given that the pilot had applied for and received a 1st class medical.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate preflight planning, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion, and the pilot’s impairment due to alcohol. Contributing to the accident was the FAA’s failure to adequately oversee the pilot’s medical certification.

For more information: NTSB Identification: ERA10FA148



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