Aerospace Medicine Technical Reports

FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine
Civil Aerospace Medical Institute

Report No: DOT/FAA/AM-14/2

Title and Subtitle: Aircraft-Assisted Pilot Suicides in the United States, 2003-2012

Report Date: February 2014

Authors: Lewis RJ, Forster EM, Whinnery JE, Webster NL

Abstract: Aircraft-assisted suicides are tragic, intentional events that are hard to predict and difficult to prevent. Factors involved in aircraft-assisted suicides may be depression, social relationships, and financial difficulties, just to name a few problems. Suicide attempts using an aircraft almost always result in pilot fatality; they also have the unfortunate potential to cause collateral damage to property and life.

Our laboratory has been interested in epidemiological and toxicological findings from aircraft-assisted pilot suicides. Accident information and case histories were obtained from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration, while toxicological information was obtained from the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory.

This paper is a 10-year review (2003-2012) of aircraft-assisted pilot suicides and is a follow up to our previous 1993-2002 review. From 2003-2012, there were 2,758 fatal aviation accidents; the NTSB determined that 8 were aircraft-assisted suicides (all involving the intentional crashing of an aircraft). This number is half of what we found in our previous 10-year review.

All pilots involved in these aircraft-assisted suicides were male, with a median age of 46 years (range 21-68, mean 42 16 years). The pilot was the sole occupant in 7 of the 8 aircraft that were intentionally crashed. Four of the 8 pilots were positive for ethanol, and 2 of the 8 were positive for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants.

Based on the limited accidents conclusively attributed to suicide, death by the intentional crashing of an aircraft is an infrequent and uncommon event and has declined compared to the previous 20 years.

Key Words: Aviation-Assisted Suicide, Toxicology, Aircraft Accident Investigation, Medical Certification, Safety

No. of Pages: 12

Last updated: Friday, February 7, 2014