washington Texting by the pilot of a medical helicopter contributed to a 2011 crash that killed four people, federal accident investigators declared Tuesday.
They approved a safety alert cautioning all pilots against using cellphones or other distracting devices during critical operations.
It was the first fatal commercial aircraft accident investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board in which texting was implicated. It underscored the board's worries that distractions from electronic devices are a growing factor in incidents across all modes of transportation .
While no U.S. airline crashes have been tied to electronic device use, the Federal Aviation Administration in January proposed regulations prohibiting airline flight crews from using wireless devices while a plane is in operation. The regulations are required under a law passed by Congress in response to an October 2010 incident in which two Northwest Airlines pilots overflew their destination of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by 100 miles while working on laptops.
Regulations already prohibit airline pilots from engaging in potentially distracting activities during critical phases of flight such as takeoffs, landings and taxiing. In some cases, pilots are allowed to use tablet computers containing safety and navigation procedures , replacing paper documents.
The five-member board unanimously agreed that the helicopter crash was caused by a distracted and tired pilot who skipped preflight safety checks, which would have revealed his helicopter was low on fuel.
The case "juxtaposes old issues of pilot decision making with a 21st century twist: distractions from portable electronic devices," board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said.
The helicopter ran out of fuel, crashing into a farm field in clear weather on Aug. 26, 2011, in Missouri, a little over a mile short of an airport. The pilot was killed, along with a patient being taken from one hospital to another, a flight nurse and a flight paramedic.