Pilot with Alzheimer’s crashes

This May 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: Long EZ. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Wakefield, Va. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The daughter of the pilot reported that her father flew the Long EZ “several times a week” up until the day of the accident. The pilot’s most recent third-class medical certificate expired about 22 months before the accident.

On his July 2006 application for a medical certificate, the pilot reported that he had 3,600 total hours of flight experience, including 50 hours in the six months prior to July 2006. No further records of the pilot’s experience in the accident airplane make and model, or of his most recent flight review, were located. The medical certificate was to be valid for two years. The FAA requested that the pilot provide certain additional documentation to substantiate his medical fitness. In September of 2008, for at least two unrelated reasons, including suspected dementia, the FAA withdrew the pilot’s eligibility for medical certification. The pilot’s eligibility for medical certification was not re-established prior to the accident.

Acquaintances of the pilot indicated that on the day of the accident his intended destination was an airport located about 200 miles to the south of his departure airport. According to a witness the pilot over-flew the turn onto the final approach path. The airplane then executed a left 360° turn about 700 feet above ground level. After the turn, the airplane was again past the extended runway centerline. The airplane continued the left turn for several seconds, and then followed with a sharp turn to the right. The airplane hit the ground about 250 feet prior to the runway threshold.

At the time of the accident, the wind was about four knots and the sky was clear of clouds. No definitive reasons for the pilot’s decision to land at the accident airport, or his difficulties in aligning with the runway, were discovered. However, autopsy findings, family member observations, and the pilot’s medical records were consistent with the pilot experiencing progressive cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to properly align the airplane with the final approach path to the runway and his subsequent loss of control during his attempts to correct the flight path. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s progressive cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: ERA10LA277



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