JUNEAU, Alaska – The National Transportation Safety Board released its findings Tuesday into the plane crash that killed former Sen. Ted Stevens, placing some blame with the pilot and raising questions about whether he should have been cleared to fly after suffering a stroke.
The report found no definitive cause for the crash that killed Stevens, the pilot and three others after the amphibious plane slammed into a mountainside. But the board pointed blame in the direction of the pilot and took the Federal Aviation Administration to task over its guidelines for clearing pilots to fly after suffering strokes.
The board, at a hearing in Washington, determined the probable cause of the crash to be the “temporary unresponsiveness” of 62-year-old pilot Theron “Terry” Smith “for reasons that could not be established from the available information.”
According to NTSB, Smith had been grounded from flying from March 2006 to April 2008 due to a stroke, and medical records reviewed by the agency showed he had an “extensive” family history of “intracranial hemorrhages at young ages.”
Questions were also raised during Tuesday’s hearing about the FAA’s guidance for determining pilots’ readiness to return to flying after suffering strokes. The board found the agency’s guidance for medical certification in such cases inadequate, saying it doesn’t address the risk of recurrence or recommend formal cognitive testing to check pilots for possible impairments. The board recommended that FAA address the issue.