In 2017, National Transportation Safety Board officials announced that a tragic hot air balloon crash the year before was caused by pilot error.
The crash just south of Austin killed all 15 passengers and the pilot. Investigators concluded the pilot was impaired by medications, launched the balloon in foggy conditions, and descended through cloud cover, which obscured the live power lines that set the balloon on fire.
Fatalities and injuries in aviation accidents are uncommon. But that fact doesn’t matter to the surviving family members of people killed in aviation accidents. Often, aircraft accidents are caused by some type of error or mechanical failure, and when mistakes lead to a loss of life, someone should be held accountable.
The Evans & Herlihy Law Firm has helped many families in Austin and throughout Texas get the compensation they deserve. If you’ve been injured in an aviation accident, or lost a loved one in an aviation accident, contact our office today to request your free, no-obligation case consultation.
Types of Aviation Accidents
The NTSB classifies aircraft as:
- Air carriers (operators of large aircraft carrying passengers, cargo, or both)
- Commuter and on-demand carriers (operators of aircraft with fewer than 10 passenger seats transporting cargo or passengers, such as charter helicopters)
- General aviation (all U.S. aircraft not included in the previous categories, such as hot air balloons, two-person planes, hang-gliders, and personal aircraft).
In 2014, the most recent year for which NTSB accident data is complete, major air carriers reported 29 accidents and no fatalities. Commuter and on-demand carriers reported 39 accidents and 20 fatalities, and there were 1,223 general aviation accidents – 257 of those were fatal and killed 424 people.
The number of instructional flying accidents in 2014 (161) was the lowest in the years 2005 thru 2014, but fatal instructional accidents (21) were the highest since 2008.
One of the nonfatal aircraft accidents in 2014 occurred in Woodsboro, Texas. The pilot and his two passengers suffered injuries in a helicopter crash, and the NTSB investigation concluded that “the pilot’s failure to recognize and correct for flight conditions conducive to a loss of tail rotor effectiveness” caused the helicopter to yaw to the right and crash. The NTSB also investigated a small plane crash in Lehman, Texas, that year that killed the pilot and two passengers; it concluded the pilot had erred by flying into adverse weather, and the air traffic controller had erred by failing to provide critical weather information. An autopsy revealed traces of the active ingredient in marijuana in the pilot’s blood, but the NTSB could not discern whether the pilot’s marijuana usage contributed to the crash.
Drugs and Alcohol in Aviation Crashes
A study of fatal crashes from 1990 through 2012 in which the pilot died found an alarming trend in the post-mortem toxicology reports: the presence of drugs in the bloodstream had grown significantly in that time frame. The most commonly detected drug was Benadryl, an over-the-counter medication used to treat allergies that is known for its sedating effects. Of the 6,677 pilots in the study, about 187 tested positive for illicit drugs.
Most of the pilots – 6,389 – were operators of general aviation aircraft. Unlike pilots working for major airlines, independent pilots aren’t typically required to submit to drug testing.
The public may be surprised to learn that in the U.S. a pilot can have a blood alcohol content of up to 0.04 percent – half the legal threshold for intoxication – and still be allowed to fly. Yet, according to a National Highway Transportation Administration study, evidence of impairment begins when a person’s blood alcohol content is at 0.02 percent.
In the field of aviation, there is little room for error. Poor judgment, a bad decision, or a failure to perform some fundamental task can lead to serious and fatal accidents. When aviation accidents occur, the injured parties or their families deserve to know who caused the accident.
The role of a personal injury attorney is to hold people accountable for their actions and to help injury victims get the compensation they need. If an aviation accident has harmed you or your immediate family member, contact the Evans & Herlihy Law Firm today to request your free, no-obligation case consultation.