NTSB Cites Medical Issues In Light Aircraft Crashes

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The NTSB released final reports this month saying two fatal crashes of home-build aircraft involved incapacitated pilots following cardiovascular events. Both pilots had previously been issued medical certificates, which had subsequently expired. In both cases, the pilots had histories of severe coronary artery disease, which may have precluded reissuance of 3rd Class Medical Certificates. Both aircraft were eligible to be flown by pilots under light sport medical certification rules without an FAA Medical Certificate due to their relatively low speeds and maximum certificated weights.

In the first accident, the 77-year old pilot of a Quad City Challenger II “impacted terrain while on visual pattern downwind at the Rosenbaum Field Airport (3WI9), near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin,” at 11:56 a.m., under clear skies. The NTSB review of the pilot’s medical records revealed severe coronary artery disease treated with multi-vessel bypass surgery, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, hypothyroidism, mild depression, and type 2 diabetes, which resulted in difficulty with balance and walking. According to the NTSB report, the pilot’s medical records “did not document a recent exercise stress test or electrocardiogram,” which are frequently required for pilots who have a history of cardiac issues seeking a special issuance medical certificate.

In the second accident, a mirror of the first, the 72-year old pilot of a Europa XL impacted terrain approximately one-half mile from Tri-City Airport (3G6), Sebring, Ohio, in late afternoon with a 15,000-foot ceiling and at least 10 miles visibility. According to the NTSB, “the pilot had a history of severe coronary artery disease treated with multi-vessel bypass surgery, stents and medication. Additionally, he had elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure treated with medications. Since his last medical certification examination, an exercise stress test showed no significant changes but his coronary artery disease had progressed as demonstrated by a cardiac catheterization that showed 90 percent occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery with impaired blood flow to a part of the heart muscle.”

The effectiveness of the FAA Third-Class medical certificate requirement in preventing accidents has been much discussed following enactment of Light Sport Medical rules in 2004 and leading up to the implementation of Third-Class Medical Reform (commonly known as “BasicMed”). Under BasicMed, which will take effect on May 1, 2017, most pilots who held a valid FAA medical certificate in the last decade will be able to exercise the privileges of a Third-Class medical by obtaining an affirmation from any state-licensed physician that the physician is unaware of any medical conditions that, as presently treated, could interfere with the pilot’s ability to safely operate an aircraft.

UPDATE: A previous version of this article incorrectly to these aircraft as Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). Although they may be operated by pilots who do not possess a current medical certificate under light sport medical rules, neither aircraft was certificated as an LSA.

Comments (8)

The campaign to kill BasicMed has begun in earnest.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 16, 2017 5:31 AM    Report this comment

Interestingly, from what I've read in the article, the diagnosis "incapacitated pilots following adverse cardiovascular events" is implied, not proven.

I also wonder if the NTSB will take into account the total number of LSA flight hours versus how many accidents have been caused by medical issues.

Posted by: STEPHEN EGOLF | March 16, 2017 8:18 AM    Report this comment

In the same time period how many pilots holding current & valid FAA medicals were incapacitated in flight by medical issues?

Posted by: Unknown | March 16, 2017 8:59 AM    Report this comment

If these guys were walking heart attacks and chose to go flying anyway, that's their business.

Maybe Trump's new budget will kill off useless government oversight exercises like this once and for all. One can dream..

Posted by: Ken Keen | March 16, 2017 10:07 AM    Report this comment

Two years ago, United Airlines had two flight captains collapse from cardiac arrest at the controls on two separate scheduled flights with passengers. One survived following an emergency landing, but one did not. Both men had valid first class medical certificates. A medical is not a guarantee of health except on the day of the exam.

Posted by: John McNamee | March 16, 2017 11:15 AM    Report this comment

So, there appears to be no autopsy results supporting the NTSB's claim of "incapacitated pilots" even if their medical records don't exactly sound stellar. The claim seems to be a bit of a stretch without collaborating evidence from autopsies.

Posted by: John Nevils | March 17, 2017 7:17 AM    Report this comment

I was holding a class 2 medical while the whole time I had a 95% arterial blockage. Fortunately, and quite by chance (just the most mild occasional discomfort while exercising) I mentioned this to my family doctor. He did an EKG and pronounced me to be heart healthy, but sent me over to a cardiologist for another opinion. That guy said lets just do an arteriogram and see if you might be developing some mild blockages. Were we both surprised! I had a triple bypass several weeks later. An aviation medical certificate doesn't' guarantee anything.

Posted by: Roger Anderson | March 17, 2017 9:06 AM    Report this comment

It's a good thing these guys succumbed while guiding their very light aircraft to the scene of the collision. It could have been much worse had they been behind the wheel of a class A recreational vehicle.

Posted by: Hans M | March 17, 2017 9:31 AM    Report this comment

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