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Aerospace Medicine Technical Reports

FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine
Civil Aerospace Medical Institute


Report No: DOT/FAA/AM-10/10

Title and Subtitle: Toxicological Findings in 889 Fatally Injured Obese Pilots Involved in Aviation Accidents

Report Date: May 2010

Authors: Botch SR, Davidson MS, Ricaurte EM, Chaturvedi AK

Abstract: Obesity continues to be a public health concern and its impact on aviation community has not been fully evaluated. Toxicological findings in fatally injured aviation accident obese pilots were examined. The Civil Aerospace Medical Institute's (CAMI's) Scientific Information System was used to develop a dataset, entailing fatally injured obese pilots involved in aviation accidents, 1990-2005. A pilot with a body mass index (BMI) of > 30 kg m2 was considered obese.

Toxicological results and aeromedical histories of these aviators were retrieved from the CAMI toxicology and medical certification databases, and the cause/factors in the related accidents were retrieved from the National Transportation Safety Board's aviation accident database. In 311 of the 889 pilots, carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and drugs were found, and glucose and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) were elevated.

Many of these drugs were for treating overweight, depression, hypertension, and cardiac conditions. In a pilot (BMI: 39.33 kg m2) wherein phentermine was detected, vitreous and urinary glucose concentrations were 301 and 6,050 mg 11.5 dL-1, respectively; HbA1c was 12.4%. Of the 889 pilots, 107 had an obesity-related medical history. The health and/or medical condition(s) of, and/or the use of ethanol and/or drugs by, pilots were the cause/factors in 55 (18%) of the 311 accidents.

Although the drugs found are commonly used in the general population, they were primarily used for treating obesity-related medical conditions. Findings emphasize monitoring of obesity and diabetes in pilots and understanding the potential implications of these health conditions in relation to flight safety.

Key Words: Forensic Science, Toxicology, Obesity, Pilot Fatalities, Drugs, Ethanol, Glucose, Hemoglbin A1c, Civil Aviation Accident Investigation

No. of Pages: 15

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