Federal investigators say a helicopter crash that killed four people in 2011 was partly caused by the pilot sending text messages to a friend while the aircraft was in flight.
According to documents from the National Transportation Safety Board, 34-year-old James Freudenbert, exchanged 20 personal text messages over a span of less than two hours preceding the helicopter crash that took his life and the lives of four others in a field in northwestern Missouri on August 26, 2011.
The NTSB said the last text was sent 19 minutes before the crash.
“This investigation highlighted what is a growing concern across transportation: distraction and the myth of multitasking,” said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “When you are operating heavy machinery, whether it is a personal vehicle or an EMS helicopter, you need to be focused on the task at hand.”
It was the first fatal commercial aircraft accident investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board in which texting has been implicated.
The texting while flying, however, wasn’t the only problem, according to the NTSB.
A thorough investigation by the agency revealed pilot fatigue contributed to the accident. By the time of the crash, Freudenberg had been on duty for about 12 hours, after getting five or fewer hours of sleep the night before.
The NTSB also discovered that the pilot skipped preflight safety checks that would have revealed that the helicopter was low on fuel. Shortly after takeoff, Freudenberg radioed that he had two hours of fuel.
He apparently realized his mistake later during the flight but reportedly missed the chance to refuel because he was distracted by further texts.
The helicopter crashed a short while later as it was approaching an airport for the pilot to refuel, killing Freudenberg, flight nurse Randy Bever, 47, flight paramedic Chris Frakes, 36, and patient Terry Tacoronte, 56.
Officials now want to ban pilots from using their cell phones in flight and during safety checks.
Aviation expert Bill Bramble said: “It is easy to imagine that some of these interruptions could have led to forgetting of steps, including checking the fuel level, performing the pre-flight.”
More on the NTSB’s findings regarding the 2011 Mosby, Missouri helicopter crash in the video below: