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NTSB Links Fatal 2011 Air Ambulance Crash to Texting


A fatal crash of an emergency medical helicopter in 2011 that killed 4 people has now been linked to text messaging.

Bloomberg reports that an EMS helicopter pilot flying over Missouri had sent and received text messages prior to the aircraft running out of fuel, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The August 26, 2011 crash killed all on-board, including a patient being transported between hospitals, the pilot, a flight nurse, and a paramedic.

The NTSB apparently found seven documented text messages sent or received by the pilot before the helicopter went down. Some of these texts were reportedly related to making dinner plans after work.

According to NTSB records, the pilot had not slept well the previous night, and was aware that the helicopter was low on fuel before taking off to pick up the patient.

The air ambulance service that employed the EMS pilot had prohibited use of electronic devices by pilots during flights.

Distracted Flying

By Alton (Own work) GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Very unlike the “distracted driver” epidemic that’s been in the news lately, in which a driver of a vehicle crashes due to taking his or her vision off the road for a length of time, text messaging in this case is considered to have contributed to the crash in that it took the pilot’s attention off the looming low fuel problem.

Communication logs show that the pilot radioed a dispatcher saying he had enough fuel for 45 minutes of flight, but the helicopter was only in flight for about 30 minutes before it crashed, with force, into a field. The records do not show any radioing from the pilot about an emergency, despite the fact that the air ambulance was equipped with a low fuel warning light.

Images: Alton (Own work) GFDL or CC-BY-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Carl Berkeley from Riverside California CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Solving the Texting Problem before it Grows

According to an NTSB spokesperson, his marks the first time the Board has directly linked phone use or texting to a fatal aviation accident.

How can we prevent further aviation accidents related to text messaging?

The air ambulance company in this case had clearly prohibited texting by pilots during flight. What are some ways we can increase personal accountability for pilots (or any air medical flight crew members) who send texts unrelated to work while in “critical” stages of performing their jobs?

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  1. Barrett's AnatomyBarrett's Anatomy

    4 / 9 / 2013 12:07 am

    Very sad. This should be a waking call for all in the air medical transport profession… Let’s put a lid on texting on the job (unless it’s job-related) before it becomes even more of a problem.


  2. roger55roger55

    4 / 11 / 2013 9:25 am

    People come on.. stop texting This is a problem with society in general but it’s worst when it when ot happens in any field of emergency medicine. Put down the cell phones and get the job done


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