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In a first, texting while flying linked to fatal commercial crash

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The preliminary NTSB reports didn’t say why the helicopter struck the ground with such force. A powerless helicopter should be able to land safely.

Air Methods prohibits its pilots from using mobile phones during flights, according to NTSB’s preliminary reports.

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While FAA regulations also prohibit extraneous conversation and using personal electronic devices during "critical" phases of commercial flights, it allows their use during level cruise flight.

"It’s hard to know what to say," Tom Judge, executive director of LifeFlight of Maine, the state’s emergency helicopter service, and an advocate for enhanced safety, said in an interview. "We’ve got to increase the level of accountability."

The crash is different from what is commonly seen in distracted driving when a motorist takes his or her eyes off the road and causes an accident, John Lee, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, said in an interview.

Instead, 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.

NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have spoken out about increasing accidents in which mobile phones and other electronic devices have led to lapses in attention.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, LaHood said in a blog post yesterday. Text messaging raises the risk of a crash on the road by 23 times, he said.

Use of electronic devices in the cockpit has occasionally come up in NTSB cases. The co-pilot on a Pinnacle Airlines Corp. Colgan Air flight that crashed near Buffalo on Feb. 12, 2009, killing 50 people, texted her husband while the plane was still on the ground before departure.

There have been 13 helicopter air-medical flight accidents since 2011, killing 12 people, according to NTSB records. Three of the accidents were on Air Methods helicopters.

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