The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the Williamsburg helicopter crash that killed the pilot and a townhouse resident in 2018.
The board found the pilot, Henry Schwarz, 85, from Alexandria, at fault for losing control of the helicopter “due to his impaired cognitive and physical abilities,” referring to his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease three years earlier, his tremors in both hands, mild dementia and cognitive impairment.
“His dementia was treated with medication, which he subsequently discontinued, and reportedly improved, although his mild cognitive impairment persisted,” according to the accident’s final report. “His doctors also noted that the pilot had impaired measures of simple attention and visual scanning and tracking speed, and mild, relative difficulty with sustained attention. They recommended that the pilot not fly due to concerns with his attention, reaction time, and judgment.”
On July 8, 2018 at around 4:30 p.m., Schwarz took off from Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport before he crashed the Robinson R44 helicopter into Bristol Commons, killing a resident, Jean Lonchak Danylko, 91, and himself.
Further, the NTSB said “examination of the wreckage revealed no anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.”
“It is likely that impairment resulted from one or more of the pilot’s well-documented progressive impaired cognitive and physical abilities negatively affected his ability to safely operate the helicopter and led to the loss of control,” according to the accident data summary report.
The following is Schwarz medical history compiled in the NTSB’s report.
- April 2015: Schwarz is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
- September 2015-August 2016: Neurologist evaluated Schwarz before and after the surgery, a deep brain simulator implant to improve his right hand tremor and found a decline in his cognitive ability.
- September 2016: Two neurologists recommended Schwarz not fly due to his cognitive issues and slower psychomotor speed and attention. One wrote a letter to the FAA with the recommendation for Schwarz not to fly, the other advised physical therapy.
- August 2017: Schwarz told one neurologist he had six vehicle accidents in the spring and at the next appointment, he was diagnosed with dementia.
- September 2017: Schwarz stopped taking dementia medication after the FAA informed him in a letter if he continued to wear the medication patch, he would not be able to fly.
- October 2017: Driver rehab evaluation determined Schwarz could only drive within a 15-mile radius of his house.
- October 2018: Schwarz told the neurologist he failed with Department of Motor Vehicle driver’s test and he would try and get his license reinstated at another DMV office.
- January 2018: Schwarz told neurologist his driver’s license had been reissued.
- May 2018: Schwarz told the neurologist he was upset the FAA denied his medical certificate in April. It was his last visit with the neurologist before the crash.
“The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot’s failure to safely operate the helicopter due to his impaired cognitive and physical abilities, which resulted in a loss of control,” the report concluded.
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