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Pilot’s texting contributed to copter crash

WASHINGTON — Texting by the pilot of a medical helicopter contributed to a crash that killed four people, federal accident investigators declared Tuesday, and they approved a safety alert cautioning all pilots against using cellphones or other distracting devices during critical operations.

It was the first fatal commercial aircraft accident investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board in which texting has been implicated. And it underscored the board’s worries that distractions from electronic devices are a growing factor in incidents across all modes of transportation: planes, trains, cars, trucks, and even ships.

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The five-member board unanimously agreed that the helicopter crash was caused by a distracted and tired pilot who skipped preflight safety checks, which would have revealed his helicopter was low on fuel, and then, after he discovered his situation, decided to proceed with the last leg of the flight.

The case ‘‘juxtaposes old issues of pilot decision-making with a 21st-century twist: distractions from portable electronic devices,’’ said the board chairwoman, Deborah Hersman.

The helicopter ran out of
fuel, crashing into a farm field in clear weather early on the evening of Aug. 26, 2011, near Mosby, Mo., a little over a mile short of an airport. The pilot was killed, along with a patient being taken from one hospital to another, a flight nurse, and a flight paramedic.

One board member, Earl Weener, dissented on the safety alert decision, saying the cases cited as the basis for it were the result of bad decisions by pilots without a direct connection to the use of distracting devices.

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