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June 25, 2014
By JC CORTEZ firstname.lastname@example.org
Dense fog and the pilot’s use of nerve pain medication not approved for flight were cited as possible factors in a November plane crash near Amarillo that killed three members of a Canyon family, according to a report issued this week by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Investigators determined the official cause of the crash as a loss of control brought on by pilot spatial disorientation, the report showed.
William Michael Capt, 48, the pilot of the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza that crashed Nov. 11, 2013, in a pasture two miles east of Amarillo, did not hold the necessary credentials for flying in the low-visibility conditions authorities think were a major factor in the crash, the NTSB said.
Capt’s wife Robin Lea Capt, 48, an education professor at West Texas A&M University, and son William Michael Capt II, 19, died in the accident.
In the report, the NTSB also said William Capt tested positive for gabapentin and duloxetine, also sold as Cymbalta and Neurontin, among several other names. Both medications are listed as disqualifying drugs for flight, and William Capt did not report the medications during a medical examination less than a month before the fatal crash, the NTSB said.
William Capt’s daughter, who was not named in the report, had been a passenger on an earlier flight that day and told NTSB investigators her father seemed alert, energetic and showed no signs of sedation.
William Capt used the medications to control nerve pain caused by a broken leg in 2011, his daughter said said.
“Although it could not be determined what effect the use of the medications had on the pilot’s performance during the high-workload IMC flight,” the report said, “their use could increase the chance of experiencing and responding inappropriately to spatial disorientation.”
William Capt purchased the Beechcraft Bonanza in North Carolina 12 days before the accident. He received two days of training after its purchase, and had about 400 to 600 hours of flight time in a Cessna 172RG, according to the report.
The NTSB investigation uncovered no evidence of mechanical problems.
To fly in low-visibility conditions, pilots must obtain additional training and pass examinations to receive what pilots call an instrument rating.
William Capt had never been issued an FAA instrument rating.
In circumstances in which dense fog, cloudy skies, storms or other conditions obstruct vision and obscure the horizon, pilots must rely on instruments to understand the position and direction of their aircraft.
The report states William Capt attempted but failed the written portion of the examination to receive his instrument rating on Oct. 24, less than three weeks before the fatal accident. He intended to take the hands-on instrument test flight, but was prevented from doing so until he could pass the written exam.
Federal regulations require pilots to be familiar with weather reports and alerts for the planned flight path and destination airport before taking off.
At 7:43 p.m., more than four hours before Capt departed from Lubbock, the National Weather Service in Amarillo issued a dense fog advisory for much of the Texas Panhandle, warning of low visibility conditions through 9 a.m. the next morning.