NTSB: FAA Medical Oversight "Inadequate"

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A 61-year-old helicopter pilot who suffered a stroke in 2006 should have received more attention form the FAA, the NTSB said, before an emergency took place on Dec. 29, because the same pilot couldn't move his arm. The emergency flight took place at night during an emergency medical services trip on a twin-engine Eurocopter. No patients were on board. After suffering the in-flight stroke, the pilot called a controller and requested vectors to a nearby airport. He then failed to recognize the runway and overflew the airport. With more vectors, and the aid of a flight nurse on the flight controls, the pilot managed a hard landing that caused the aircraft $220,000 in damage. The NTSB noted a contributing factor in that accident: "The Federal Aviation Administration's inadequate oversight of the pilot's known medical condition."

The FAA evaluates the medical condition of pilots on a case-by-case basis and FAA medical examiners work with the information provided by the airmen themselves. In this case, that combination allowed the stroke-pilot to fly again without any formal evaluation of the risk of a recurrent stroke. The NTSB found that the pilot's records show no definitive cause had been identified as the cause of the pilot's previous stroke. It found that the pilot had a family history of stroke and that the pilot was increasingly obese. It also found that the pilot's physician had discontinued medication "in part to reduce the pilot's risk of a future stroke." On the accident flight, the NTSB found that the pilot had suffered a "sudden onset of right hand weakness and slurred speech" while at the controls. A subsequent MRI found evidence of two recent strokes. The pilot had received his Class 2 medical four months prior.