On 18 July, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published its Probable Cause report into the fatal crash of an EagleMed AS350 B2 helicopter that occurred on 22 July 2010, stating that ‘the pilot’s impaired judgement due to medications’ was likely to have been to blame for the crash.
The aircraft had taken off from Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, US, and was en route to pick up a patient in Okeene, but crashed in a field at around 20:00 hrs, half-way into the flight, after the pilot had begun to conduct manoeuvres mimicking a coyote hunt.
Pilot Al Harrison and nurse Ryan Duke lost their lives in the accident, but paramedic Michael Eccard survived and has been interviewed by the NTSB on the events prior to the crash. The NTSB report states: “The surviving paramedic reported that while en route to the destination hospital to pick up a patient, a conversation began about flying on a coyote hunt. The pilot abruptly began a low-level manoeuvre in an attempt to demonstrate a coyote hunt flight. As the pilot manoeuvred at low level, the helicopter and main rotor blades impacted trees and then terrain.”
Although the helicopter’s airframe and engine were examined, no indications of pre-impact malfunctions or failures were found that would have precluded normal operation. However, states the report, toxicological testing performed on specimens from the pilot detected the presence of a number of medications, adding ‘it is likely that these medications would have impaired the pilot’s judgment and ability to maintain control of the helicopter’. The NTSB also said that a review of the pilot’s medical history found medical treatment for several conditions that were not reported to the Federal Aviation Administration, the certificate holder, or the operator.
In its probable cause report, the NTSB explained that the medication found during toxicological testing included ‘hydrocodone (a prescription narcotic for pain treatment), diazepam (a prescription medication with sedative effects) and chlorpheniramine (an over-the-counter sedating antihistamine)’.
An earlier Factual Report updated by the NTSB in May this year listed further medications detected: acetaminophen, dihydrocodeine, hydromorphone, nordiazepam, oxazepam and temazepam.
The Factual Report reveals what took place immediately before the crash: “In an interview with the surviving paramedic flight nurse, he recalled that during the flight to Okeene, the left side door had come unlatched and was slightly ajar (about one-half inch). The paramedic informed the pilot that he was getting out of his seat to close the door and secure the handle. The pilot acknowledged the paramedic. After securing the handle, the paramedic stated that he had sat back down and begun to gather his seatbelt when a conversation began about another pilot flying on a coyote hunt. The paramedic reported that the pilot made a statement similar to ‘like this … (with some laughter)’ and made a nose-down control input. He reported that the pilot pulled up on the collective and the helicopter struck a tree. During the ground impact, the paramedic, who was not secured in his seat, was thrown through the windscreen; the paramedic crawled away from the wreckage and dialled 911 on his cell phone.”