Pilot's Medications Blamed For Fatal Medical Helicopter Crash Near Kingfisher

Friday, July 19th 2013, 11:47 am
By: Richard Clark

The National Transportation Safety Board blames the pilot's medications for the crash of a medical helicopter near Kingfisher in 2010 that killed him and a nurse and seriously injured a paramedic.

The EagleMed Eurocopter AS 350 crashed on July 22, 2010 while en route from Oklahoma City's Integris Baptist Medical Center to pick up a patient 70 miles away in Okeene.

7/22/2010: 2 Dead, 1 Injured in Medical Helicopter Crash

The crash killed pilot Al Harrison and nurse Ryan Duke. Paramedic Michael Eccard survived and only recently spoke publicly about what happened.

5/9/2013: Related Story: NTSB: Mid-Air Stunt Causes Fatal EagleMed Crash, Lone Survivor Speaks Out

Eccard told the NTSB that during the flight the crew began a discussion about flying on a coyote hunt. He said the pilot suddenly began demonstrating the maneuver when the main rotor blades struck a tree, causing the helicopter to crash.

According to the NTSB's newly-released Probable Cause report, the cause of the crash was the pilot's use of medications that impaired his judgment and ability to control the aircraft.

Read the Probable Cause report.

The report contains this conclusion:

"Toxicological testing performed on specimens from the pilot detected the presence of numerous medications, including hydrocodone (a prescription narcotic for pain treatment), diazempam (a prescription medication with sedative effects) and chlorpheniramine (an over-the-counter sedating antihistamine). It is likely that these medications would have impaired the pilot's judgment and ability to maintain control of the helicopter."

The report goes on to reference a serious problem uncovered by the News 9 and News On 6 investigative team: that many pilots involved in fatal crashes of light aircraft in Oklahoma have been using medications that should have kept them out of the cockpit. 

7/15/2013: Related Story: Pilots Hide Prescription Drug Use, Create Deadly Trend

Medical flight pilots are supposed to take random drug tests, and just like private pilots are supposed to report their medical problems and medications when they get their yearly physicals. However, the FAA relies on the honor system when it comes to pilots filling out the medication portion of their paperwork and our investigation revealed that many pilots involved in deadly crashes in Oklahoma did not follow it. 

The NTSB's Probable Cause report on this crash includes the following statement:

"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."