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Texting blamed for fatal helicopter crash

Okay, so we’re not known as “Recombu Aviation” but the news of a helicopter crash being caused by texting is a clear warning to drivers who think its acceptable to bang out a quick SMS while in control of a vehicle.

Shortly before his fatal collision with terra firma outside Mosby, Missouri, retired pilot James Freudenbert received four text messages and replied to three others as he flew himself, a patient, nurse and a paramedic towards their destination airport.

The crash was ultimately triggered by a lack of fuel and the subsequent cutting out of the aircraft’s engine, but such was the proximity of Freudenbert’s last text message to the crash that the text has been cited as a contributing factor by the National Transportation Board — a first in aviation history.

National Transportation Board chairman Debbie Hersman implied the text contributed to a lack of “aeronautical decision making”. Had Freudenbert initiated a procedure known as “autorotation” – disengaging the main rotor from the engine to allow the kinetic energy of the rotor in motion to provide lift and slow the rate of descent – it could’ve been a lucky escape for all involved.

Texting almost certainly played its part in the pilot’s overestimation of fuel levels. When the helicopter departed from hospital with the patient in tow, Freudenbert said he had 45 minutes worth of fuel. This would’ve been enough to make the 32 minute journey, but in fact the fuel he had was only good for a thirty minute flight.

The helicopter dropped from a height of five hundred feet and hit the ground ten seconds later, killing all on board.

“The nation’s helicopter emergency medical services perform important work transporting hundreds of patients and organs every day,” Hersman said. “We all share the same goal: to ensure that lives are saved — not lost — in these vital lifesaving operations.”

“But this investigation highlighted what is a growing concern across transportation — distraction and the myth of multi-tasking. When you are operating heavy machinery, whether it’s a personal vehicle or an EMS helicopter, you need to be focused on the task at hand: transportation, safe transportation.”

Another recent case saw 22-year-old Northern Colorado student Alexander Heit texting while driving with tragic consequences. “Sounds good my man, seeya soon, ill tw…” was the text message he never got to send to a friend before he lost control of his car. His parents photographed and published the fateful text message to make a point others can hopefully learn from.

“In a split second you could ruin your future, injure or kill others, and tear a hole in the heart of everyone who loves you,” mother Sharon Heit said in a statement.

So there you have it. Texting when doing something like piloting a helicopter, flying a plane, riding a bike or driving a car can be fatal. If you have to text, pull in or wait until you reach your destination.

Source and image: NTSB

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