The pilot of an air ambulance that crashed last year at Spokane in heavy fog and dark twice failed certification checks because of difficulties with instrument flights, a federal report says.
The National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash said pilot David Brooks lacked experience with instrument landings. Brooks, the patient and a flight nurse were killed. A paramedic survived the Jan. 8, 1996, crash.
The Aeromed air ambulance was carrying a patient from Pasco to Spokane for emergency heart surgery.
The NTSB statement of probable cause released Thursday said Brooks was relying on the plane’s instruments to pick up signals from runway transmitters to gauge his position on cross hairs and guide him in the landing.
When the pilot tried to land in the deteriorating weather the plane veered off course and crashed into an empty building near the Spokane International Airport.
One mile from the runway he was heading straight for the runway and starting to descend and slow down when he suddenly made a 90-degree turn to the left, the NTSB report said.
He continued to descend as if he was headed toward the runway and made no distress call to the airport, according to the report. There was no indication he knew he was off course until the plane hit a wooden power pole, then smashed into a metal warehouse and burned.
The report said if the pilot had known he had missed the approach, he should have gained altitude and circled around to try again.
Brooks, 36, was an experienced pilot with 3,500 hours of flight time, including 50 hours in multi-engine airplanes. But the NTSB reported there was evidence he lacked experience with instrument approaches in airplanes and had recently had difficulty with instrument approaches during training and flight checks.
When he was tested for certification as Aeromed’s pilot in August 1996, he failed his first check because of difficulties with instrument flight rules operations - navigating with instruments rather than by sight. On his second try a few weeks later he failed because of problems during holding procedures and an instrument approach. By the end of the month, he passed the flight test.
The investigation did not find any mechanical problems either with the plane or the navigational equipment at the airport. The investigation also looked into the possibility that a cellular telephone that flight nurse Vicki Colleman was using had interfered with the aircraft’s navigational equipment. It found no evidence it had.
The patient, Linda Fritts of Pasco, was in critical condition with a dissected aorta blocking blood flow from her heart when the Aeromed crew arrived at the Tri-Cities airport.
Only paramedic Harold Livingston Jr. of Finley survived the crash.
After the crash, Aeromed, owned in part by Brooks, did not resume flights.
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