NTSB: 86-year-old pilot with poor eyesight to blame for Ohio crash that killed 5 passengers

By John Seewer, AP
Friday, April 16, 2010

Pilot with poor vision blamed in fatal Ohio crash

TOLEDO, Ohio — An 86-year-old pilot with poor vision was to blame for a crash that killed himself and five passengers at a charity event, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

A report issued Thursday said former state lawmaker Gene Damschroder Sr. lost control of the plane, causing it to stall in June 2008 at the Fremont airport in northern Ohio.

He had been warned not to drive by his eye doctor, the NTSB said, and had been in treatment for two years for macular degeneration, which can make it difficult to recognize faces, read and drive.

Damschroder denied having any eye conditions when he received his airman medical certificate a year before the accident, the report said.

The NTSB said the Federal Aviation Administration has taken away the certificate of a medical examiner who approved Damschroder’s paperwork after the doctor reported that he had normal eye test results.

Investigators could not conclude that Damschroder’s eyesight or his unknown coronary artery disease contributed to his losing control of the plane.

But the report said he used poor judgment in continuing to fly, and that he would have had trouble seeing readings on the cockpit instruments and objects on the ground.

A witness, who was a pilot, said Damschroder had been using nonstandard maneuvers to take off and land. Those who saw the accident said the plane was flying at a low altitude and banking when it crashed.

The victims included a 4-year-old girl and her mother. Also killed were a man, his daughter, and her boyfriend. Damschroder had taught the man how to fly and helped him get his pilot’s license.

Family members of the victims have filed a lawsuit against Damschroder’s estate.

Damschroder’s son, Rex Damschroder, declined to comment Friday, citing the pending lawsuit. He said last year that his aging father’s slower reflexes may have been a key reason for the crash.

Damschroder, who had flown seaplanes in World War II, was involved in a traffic accident 10 days before the plane crash, the NTSB said. He told a state trooper that the glaring sun kept him from seeing an oncoming vehicle until he was already making a turn into the airport.

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