Pilot medicated in fatal Cody crash — (Billings Gazette)

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Billings Gazette

October 02, 2004 11:00 pm

Associated Press

CODY, Wyo. – A pilot killed when his cargo plane crashed in a snowstorm last year had ingested anti-depressant and several over-the-counter drugs, according to federal investigators.   The pilot, Donald Rhodes, 37, of Casper, was the only person on board when the plane went down on Cody’s outskirts the morning of Oct. 29, 2003.

The Cessna 208B Grand Caravan was operated for FedEx by Corporate Air, of Billings. It was circling to land at Yellowstone Regional Airport when it flipped in mid-air, crashed on a slushy highway and slid into an icy lake. Heavy, wet snow and rain was falling.

While the probable-cause report released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board did not blame the crash on the pilot’s use of drugs, the synopsis went into detail about the substances and their effects.

Chlorpheniramine, desmethylsertraline, sertraline, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine and acetaminophen were evident, the report said. Sertraline, which has the trade name Zoloft, is a prescription anti-depressant medication.

The investigation report quoted the Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners: “The use of a psychotropic medication is considered disqualifying. This includes all … anti-depressant drugs.”

Chlorpheniramine is an over-the-counter sedating antihistamine used primarily to treat allergies. Pseudophedrine, or Sudafed, is a decongestant. Acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol, is an over-the-counter pain-reliever and fever-reducer.

The NTSB summary said adverse side effects of chlorpheniramine include drowsiness, dizziness and lessened coordination. Side effects of pseudophedrine may include sleepiness, dizziness, restlessness, headache, and perhaps some loss of coordination and alertness or confusion.

The official cause of the accident was “the pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control. Contributing factors include the pilot’s failure to divert to an alternate airport, an inadvertent stall, and the snow and icing conditions.”

The plane departed Casper at 7:30 a.m. Approaching Cody, the pilot told an air traffic controller, “I can barely see Beacon Hill. … Can’t make out any ceiling because snow is too thick.”

At 8:33 a.m., the pilot said that if he missed his approach, he would divert to Billings. It was the last recorded communication from the plane.

The crash occurred at 8:54 a.m.

The same storm sent temperatures plummeting 50 degrees across the state, dropped more than 2 feet of snow, closed several highways and caused hundreds of collisions, including three traffic deaths.

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