Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pilots Popping Pills

Use of prescription and over-the-counter medications can be problematic for pilots

Cessna 310R
A Cessna 310R hit trees and terrain during an instrument approach to Pike County Airport (PBX), Pikeville, Ky. The ATP-rated pilot and the passenger were killed. The pilot held an FAA second class medical certificate and had 15,300 hours in the Cessna 310. The on-demand Part 135 flight originated in Dayton, Ohio.

The pilot requested and was cleared for the RNAV (GPS) approach to runway 9 at PBX. The minimum descent altitude was 1,960 feet MSL, and the airport elevation was 1,473 feet.

Witnesses saw the airplane descend out of clouds directly on top of a ridgeline approximately in line with the runway 9 final approach course. They saw the airplane hit several treetops, strike a large tree, then disappear from view. They stated that the fog was "heavy" and that the clouds were at treetop level.

The last four radar returns showed the airplane at 1,900 feet, 1,900 feet, 1,800 feet and 1,700 feet MSL. The last return was about half a mile from the runway threshold and aligned with the runway.

The Pikeville director of public safety, who responded to the airport immediately after the accident, said that the fog was so thick that he couldn't see a gate that was 30 feet away.

The FAA performed the toxicological testing for the pilot. Three common over-the-counter drugs were detected. The first was acetaminophen, commonly used for aches, pains and fever. Second was dextrorphan, a metabolite of dextromethorphan, as was found in the DHC-3T accident. Third was doxylamine, also found in the DHC-3T accident. Cough-drop wrappers had been found in the pilot's clothing.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's flight below the published minimum descent altitude in instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in a collision with trees and the ground. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's use of nighttime cold medication at doses above therapeutic levels that may have resulted in impairment and posed a hazard to flight safety.

Cessna A185F
A float-equipped Cessna A185F nosed over while landing on Moosehead Lake near Rockwood, Maine, on a flight from the municipal airport at Rangeley, Maine. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the Part 91 flight. The ATP-rated pilot, who had logged more than 23,000 hours, was killed while the passenger was uninjured. The pilot held a second class FAA medical certificate with no limitations. The airplane received substantial damage. The personal flight was conducted under Part 91.

The passenger told an FAA investigator that immediately after contacting the water, the airplane went to the left and nosed over. She had told the Maine State Police that on the morning of the accident, the pilot "wasn't feeling well." She said that after breakfast, "He was feeling much better, and felt he was fine to fly." She also reported that "they had a normal flight," and the area of the accident was in "the same area he always lands."

The FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute performed the forensic toxicology. Several drugs, including acetaminophen, diphenhydramine and hydrocodone, were detected. Diphenhydramine is used to treat sneezing, runny nose, itching and other symptoms of allergies and the common cold. Hydrocodone is used to treat moderate to severe pain.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's failure to retract the landing gear prior to a water landing. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's impairment due to medication.

Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board.

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