‘Texting While Flying’ Linked to Fatal Helicopter Crash

Perhaps there’s another reason why everyone should power off their devices before liftoff.

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An emergency airlift helicopter is seen preparing for take-off.

Perhaps there’s another reason why everyone should power off their devices before liftoff.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has officially linked the cause of a fatal medical helicopter crash in 2011 to its pilot texting on his phone during the flight, reports Bloomberg. It is the first time that “texting while flying” has been linked to a fatal commercial air crash.

Missouri pilot James Freudenbert had reportedly been texting back and forth before the emergency medical helicopter he was flying crashed in a field in August 2011. Freudenbert and his three passengers — flight nurse Randy Bever,  paramedic Chris Frakes and their patient, Terry Tacoronte, all perished.

According to records, Freudenbert received four texts during the flight and then sent three texts to at least two different people. He was planning to have dinner with a coworker.

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The official NTSB review, it’s important to note, only cited his texting as a contributing factor in the crash — the proximate cause was the fact that Freudenbert took off from Taraconte’s hospital in Bethany, Missouri, without enough fuel to complete the trip. But the safety board — which reportedly documented 240 texts sent or received by Freudenbert during his shift — concluded at a hearing Tuesday that the texting may have distracted the pilot from noticing his low fuel levels before he took off.

Federal rules state that passenger-carrying helicopters must carry enough fuel in reserve to fly for 20-minutes beyond their original destination.

“This is a classic example of dividing attention in a way that compromises safety,” said David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City told Bloomberg.

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John Lee, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, elaborates:

It’s similar to an office worker who gets a phone call and forgets to send an e-mail, said Lee, who studies people’s interaction with technology. Such distractions from so-called multi-tasking have been linked to medical errors, he said.

The medical transportation company, Air Methods, plans to implement a zero-tolerance policy in light of the new information. The company already prohibits pilots from using mobile phones during flights.

2 comments
PaulGoodwin
PaulGoodwin

Lack of dicipline and sanitary operating procedures is the argument against electronic devices for personel usage. Most employers have policies against personel use of phones on duty. I had a moonlighting border patrol pilot flying tourists giving biplane rides around the Florida keys run out of gas and crash in the ocean. 10 minutes before he was giving swimming lessons to the passengers he sent me 2 text messages, 1 was his border patrol bosses phone # about a boat I was selling for a widow friend. I didn't respond to either as I knew he was flying. Distractions from important tasks kill people, luckily no one was hurt but he killed a beautiful waco.

NecktopPC
NecktopPC like.author.displayName 1 Like

"The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has officially linked the cause of a fatal medical helicopter crash in 2011 to its pilot texting on his phone during the flight - It is the first time that “texting while flying” has been linked to a fatal commercial air crash."

First time is right.

What an asinine report - attempting to link the sending and receiving of electronic messages, as the cause for the pilot crashing the aircraft.

Many air services operators today, and for years gone by, have been accustomed to keeping in touch with their flight crews through electronic messaging; whether its by sat-phones (satellite phone text messaging) - Apart from that; it is a very common practice, that pilots will be engaged with calling up data on their GPS, for navigation purposes, and or, on the FMS (Flight Management Systems) if so equipped (like many of the newer aircraft) - this is simply a common practice of flying certain aircraft, that would typically have such equipment installed (being distracted if you will).

Based on the picture of the helicopter in this story; it appears to be an Agusta 109 series, and used for Emergency Medical Services (day or night) - This means that it would more than likely have been a well equipped helicopter. i.e. instrumentation and communications (radios) - the aircraft would most likely have also been equipped with an "Auto-Pilot" system (hands off flight).

The following comment is not a well educated one either:   

"Federal rules state that passenger-carrying helicopters must carry enough fuel in reserve to fly for 20-minutes beyond their original destination."

That pertains only to VFR (visual flight rules) and has nothing to do with carrying passengers, but applies in general, as part of the vfr rules period - and I must add - it is not something that is cut in stone - most pilots would not strive, to live their careers based on that minimum rule - they would typically always plan to make their destinations, would more that 20 minutes of fuel left after landing.

Further to that; this aircraft, and the missions that they typically perform (day and night, and in inclement weather), would be operating under IFR (instrument flight rules) and, the criteria is different for the fuel minimums as it relates to flight times.