Pre-existing medical condition leads to crash

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: Gatesville, Texas. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot’s medical history included an accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury that put him in a coma in 1993. This was accompanied with persistent cognitive deficits and frequent intermittent episodes of amnesia. In addition, he had severe chronic lung disease that required him to use supplemental oxygen to avoid hypoxia during periods of activity. He was also suffering from depression for which he had been receiving therapy. He also had a slowly expanding abdominal aortic aneurysm, and coronary artery disease. He was on a medication that would have reduced his tolerance to increased G-loading. Although an oxygen generator was found in the pilot’s parked automobile, no oxygen was found in the airplane wreckage. The pilot had specifically denied any history of unconsciousness, lung disease, neurological disorders, or depression on his most recent application for a medical certificate. The FAA would have denied that application had they been aware of the full extent of the pilot’s medical condition.

Witnesses saw the airplane make several loops and abrupt changes in directional flight, first to the right at a bank angle of at least 60°, then it flew straight and level before entering a steep left climbing turn. The plane then started a descent with wings level at about a 45-60° nose-down angle. The airplane was at full power when it crashed into the ground and burned. The airport manager said the erratic flying was “entirely out of the pilot’s character.”

Probable cause: The pilot’s incapacitation as a result of one or more pre-existing medical conditions.

For more information: NTSB Identification: CEN10LA129



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  1. Dennis Reiley says

    This is why all pilot license applications should require the signature of the pilot’s family physician certifying that they are fit to fly. You can still have varying levels of how intensive a flight physical is required. But the sign-off by a physician who regularly examines the pilot should be mandatory. No family physician – no license.  

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