A top federal investigator said today that it is unlikely that a Piper pilot's heart attack led to a collision with a jetliner that killed at least 85 people.
"I'm skeptical that it was a factor," said John Lauber, the National Transportation Safety Board member in charge of the investigation into Sunday's crash.
While Lauber said he is "certainly keeping my options open," he noted that investigators "don't have any independent verification that the (Piper Archer) pilot was incapacitated at the time of the accident.
"The only thing out of the ordinary was that the plane was in the Los Angeles terminal control area (restricted airspace for the jet's approach) without clearance," Lauber said. "That could have been inadvertent pilot error that didn't have anything to do with incapacitation."
No Suspicion of Drugs
The air traffic controller who handled the incoming DC-9 was to give a urine sample today to test for drugs, Lauber said, adding, "We don't have any reason to believe there was any drug involvement at all."
Also, Lauber said, another light plane in the area "took some of the controller's attention" just before the Piper and DC-9 collided, but he couldn't say whether that contributed to the tragedy.
Lauber said the pilot's heart tissue will be sent to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology near Washington to confirm the heart attack. An autopsy by the Los Angeles County coroner's office found that the pilot died of injuries from the crash, not from the heart attack that occurred minutes before the collision.
The Piper, which took off from Torrance Airport, collided with an Aeromexico DC-9 approaching Los Angeles International Airport. The Piper crashed into a schoolyard in Cerritos and the jet crashed and exploded in a residential neighborhood, setting 16 homes ablaze and destroying 10.
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