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USC Annenburg Reporting on Health
June 17, 2009
When Stanford University neurosurgeon and amateur pilot Doyle John Borchers III (California License No. 64879) crashed his plane near Lake Tahoe last August, investigators wondered what the hell he was doing flying a plane at night in a mountainous area in the first place.
Borchers, who died in the crash, had been flying sporadically for less than a year and had only flown at night once before – the night before the crash.
Now, a National Transportation Safety Board review of the crash provides more details. The NTSB found that Borchers had “a dizzying cocktail of drugs in his system, including cocaine and Prozac,” according to a very interesting story by Will Oremus of the Bay Area News Group.
Borchers, 41, was flying from Palo Alto to Reno to gamble, the NTSB surmised. He had only trained in night flying once – the night before the accident, and, according to the article, “there was no record he had ever flown farther than 50 nautical miles.”
And then there’s this: “The accomplished doctor, known for his work on the neuropharmacology of addiction, had a long and well-documented history of substance addiction and abuse himself, the report adds.”
The Federal Aviation Administration says that the amount of drugs found in Borchers blood, liver and urine should have prevented him from flying. The FAA found opiates, mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic drugs on top of the Prozac and cocaine.
“The substances identified in NTSB report are prohibited medicines and nobody should be flying with them in their system,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told the Daily News. “If a pilot came to us and acknowledged taking medication like that, we would deny them a medical certificate,” which is a flight requirement.
But Borchers didn’t tell the FAA he was taking any of those drugs. He applied for his student pilot’s certificate on Dec. 20, 2007 and checked “no” when asked about depression, anxiety, substance dependence, failed drug tests, or use of illegal substances in the past two years, according to the NTSB.
The Medical Board of California was aware of Borchers’ drug problem. According to the NTSB, they were investigating a “documented a history of substance dependence and abuse for more than 10 years preceding the accident, involving the misuse of at least four different substances (including alcohol) and treatment through at least six different programs for substance-related disorders during that period,” the board wrote.