The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

July 19, 2013

NTSB: Meds likely played role in deadly copter crash

Federal investigators say the probable cause of a medical helicopter crash near Kingfisher in 2010 that killed two people was the pilot’s impaired judgment, due to medications.

National Transportation Safety Board released its probable cause report Thursday for the July 22, 2010, crash that killed the pilot, 56-year-old Al Harrison, of Edmond, and flight nurse, 35-year-old Ryan Duke, of Oklahoma City. Paramedic flight nurse Michael Eccard, of Edmond, was seriously injured. No patients were on board.

The helicopter, operated by Wichita-Kan.-based EagleMed LLC, was traveling from Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City to a hospital about 90 miles away in Okeene when it crashed into a field.

The report noted toxicology reports on Harrison detected the presence of numerous medications, including a prescription narcotic pain reliever and other drugs with sedative effects.

According to the report, the toxicology tests found “hydrocodone (a prescription narcotic for pain treatment), diazempam (a prescription medication with sedative effects) and chlorpheniramine (an over-the-counter sedating antihistamine)” in Harrison’s system.

“It is likely that these medications would have impaired the pilot’s judgment and ability to maintain control of the helicopter,” the NTSB report stated. “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.”

The report also stated an “examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any pre-impact malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.”

Jim Gregory, a spokesman for EagleMed, said Friday “we continue to grieve” for the families and friends of the victims and that safety continues to be a priority for EagleMed.

EagleMed participated in the NTSB investigation, and the report released contains “the best information available,” Gregory said. He said EagleMed officials are evaluating the report.

A report released in May by NTSB stated Harrison was pretending to hunt coyotes when his aircraft struck a tree and plummeted to the ground.

The May report released found that during the flight, Eccard noticed the helicopter’s left door had come unlatched and was slightly ajar. After securing it, Eccard sat back down and was getting into his seat belt when a conversation began about another pilot flying on a coyote hunt.

The report states Eccard said Harrison made a statement similar to “like this (with some laughter)” and tilted the aircraft’s nose down. He pulled back up and the helicopter struck a tree and crashed to the ground. Eccard was thrown through the windscreen from the wreckage and crawled away, the report states. He called 911 from his cellphone.

The helicopter caught fire after the crash and the blaze “consumed a majority of the fuselage,” according to the report. Downed tree limbs — with marks consistent to rotor strikes — were found in a tree line 690 feet east of the wreckage. Ground scars, consistent with the helicopter’s skids digging into the ground, began 115 feet east of the wreckage, the report states.

“An eyewitness spotted the helicopter descending in an abnormal fashion,” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jason Aguilera told reporters after the accident.

Kingfisher Mayor Jack Stuteville said he arrived at the scene not long after the crash, after a farmer told him he saw the helicopter spinning and then crash into the remote field.

“By the time I got there it was already burned to pieces,” Stuteville said. “The bodies were charred beyond recognition. It was bad.”

The NTSB report in May noted Harrison was being treated for several medical conditions and had been prescribed multiple medications since at least 2007, when he told his personal physician he had bronchitis, hypertension and sleep apnea. The NTSB report stated the pilot was never treated for his sleep apnea and had not reported any of his medical conditions and prescription medications to Federal Aviation Administration.

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