Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In a first, texting while flying linked to fatal commercial crash
First Published Apr 09 2013 10:48 am • Last Updated Apr 09 2013 09:42 pm

WASHINGTON • The pilot of an emergency medical helicopter flying over Missouri was sending and receiving text messages before a 2011 crash, the first time such distractions have been implicated in a fatal commercial-aviation accident.

Texting increased the likelihood of attention lapses and errors, Bill Bramble, a U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigator, said at a hearing on the accident Tuesday. The safety board is meeting to assign a probable cause for the accident that killed four people, including a patient.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The NTSB documented 20 texts sent and received by the pilot before and during the flight, according to agency records.

The Air Methods Corp. helicopter crashed in a field after running out of fuel, according to preliminary NTSB reports. Use of electronic devices by pilots during flight was prohibited by company rules, according to the reports.

"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 who has studied how personal electronic devices cause distraction.

This is the first time the NTSB has uncovered evidence of texting or mobile-phone use during a flight involved in a fatal accident, Kelly Nantel, an NTSB spokeswoman, said in an email.

In talks he gives on distracted driving, Strayer said he often asks people what they would think about an airline pilot phoning to make dinner reservations while approaching an airport.

"Curiously enough, here is a situation in which that ludicrous example occurred," Strayer said. "Now you’ve got it coming full circle."

The company has put in place safety improvements since the accident, Air Methods President Mike Allen said in a statement. Among the changes is a "zero tolerance policy" for mobile phone use during flight, Allen said.

Air Methods, based in Englewood, Colo., says on its website that it operates more than 300 air-medical bases in 48 states.

story continues below
story continues below

The crash on Aug. 26, 2011, in Mosby, Mo., killed Terry Tacoronte, a patient who was being flown from one hospital to another. Pilot James Freudenbert, flight nurse Randy Bever and paramedic Chris Frakes also died. The helicopter was being operated under the name LifeNet.

Freudenbert received four texts, three of them from a friend at work, and sent three others during the flight, according to NTSB records. He was planning to have dinner with the coworker, according to the records.

Another 13 texts were logged on his phone in the 71 minutes before the flight, including two during a previous flight, according to NTSB records.

Freudenbert, 34, who told the coworker he hadn’t slept well the night before, failed to refuel the helicopter before flying to a hospital in Bethany, Mo., to pick up Tacorente, according to NTSB records.

He realized his mistake after landing at the hospital and discussed where to get more fuel with a company dispatcher. He was headed to Midwest National Air Center Airport in Mosby when the helicopter went down.

Taking off on the final flight may have violated U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations on how much fuel is required, according to NTSB records. Helicopters carrying passengers for hire must carry a 20-minute fuel reserve beyond what they need to get to their destination, according to NTSB records.

Freudenbert radioed a dispatcher after takeoff that he had enough fuel to fly 45 minutes. The copter was aloft for 30 minutes before it ran out of fuel, according to NTSB records.

"I don’t want to run short and I don’t want to run into that 20-minute reserve if I don’t have to," he radioed a company dispatcher shortly before taking off.

The Eurocopter AS350 helicopter was equipped with a warning light to alert pilots when fuel ran low, according to the records. Freudenbert never radioed that he was having an emergency.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.