Safety regulators in the U.S. worry that pilots are increasingly distracted by electronic devices. The FAA even banned personal electronics in cockpits last year, but it hasn’t seemed to stop distracted flying.
On December 29, 2014, a 25-year-old student pilot was getting flying lessons when the helicopter crashed north of the Lantana Airport, in Palm Beach County. The crash resulted in the serious injury to the student earning his certification, and the death of his instructor pilot. At the time of the incident, the student told investigators the last thing he remembered was the instructor telling him they were going to crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating, but says it could take over a year to determine the cause of the crash.
Now the student pilot has filed a lawsuit against the deceased pilot and the company that offered the lesson, Palm Beach Helicopters claiming gross negligence. According to the suit, the two men were “practicing an ‘Approaches and Emergency Procedures’ following a simulated engine failure” with the flight instructor at the controls. The suit claims the pilot was negligent in the course of the lesson, “acting recklessly and/or grossly negligent in using ‘FaceTime’ on his cell phone while operating the helicopter. The suit also alleges the flight school did not properly teach or prepare the plaintiff for emergency landing situations. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff says he suffered a fractured spine, tailbone, and ribs, among other injuries, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, expense of hospitalization and medical treatment, and loss of income.
There is no mention of the pilot using his phone in NTSB’s preliminary report, but a final report will look into the instructor’s cell phone records, as well as the helicopter’s maintenance history, the pilot’s training record and environmental factor.
This is not the first time digital distraction may have been responsible for an in-air crash. In 2010, a Northwest Airlines crew missed its destination by 150 miles because the pilots were using their laptops to review company seniority and scheduling policies. They never heard the handoff call from Denver Airport and buzzed past Minneapolis, their destination, before a flight attendant brought it to their attention as they flew over Wisconsin. In May 2014, a single-engine Cessna crashed in Colorado soon after takeoff, killing the pilot and his passenger. The NTSB recovered a GoPro camera and cell phone that showed the men were taking selfies during takeoff; the camera flash most likely disoriented the pilot, who stalled the plane.
If the allegations this recent case prove true, this would be the latest evidence that phones and flying don’t mix. Digital devices can be distracting to pilots, just as they can be to drivers of other types of vehicles. When the flight attendant says “Please turn off all personal electronic devices,” it should apply to the pilot and crew to ensure the safety of all on board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.