Characteristics of alcohol-related fatal general aviation crashes

Guohua Li, Susan P. Baker, Margaret W. Lamb, Yandong Qiang, Melissa L. McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: The effects of alcohol on piloting performance have been studied extensively. Information describing alcohol-related aviation crashes, however, is scant. Methods: We developed a data system for fatally injured pilots in Maryland, New Mexico, and North Carolina by linking autopsy data from the state medical examiner offices and crash investigation reports from the National Transportation Safety Board. Alcohol-related crashes are defined as those in which the pilot had a blood alcohol concentration of 20 mg/dL or greater. Differences between alcohol- and non-alcohol-related crashes were assessed with regard to pilot characteristics, crash circumstances, and human factors. Results: The National Transportation Safety Board recorded 313 general aviation crashes fatal to the pilot in the three states between 1985 and 2000. Of these crashes, 255 (81%) were matched successfully with medical examiner records. Alcohol testing results were available for 233 of the fatally injured pilots. Of those tested for alcohol, 25 (11%) had blood alcohol concentrations ≥20 mg/dL (mean=75 ± 64 mg/dL). The majority of alcohol-related crashes (52%) occurred at night (7 p.m. to 6 a.m.), compared with 28% of other crashes (P < 0.01). Alcohol-related crashes were significantly more likely than other crashes to have involved continued flight under visual flight rules (VFR) into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) (32% versus 12%, P < 0.01), and flawed decisions (64% versus 41%, P = 0.03). Conclusions: Distinctive epidemiological patterns are exhibited in alcohol-related fatal general aviation crashes. Alcohol appears to play a particularly important role in crashes involving flight under VFR into IMC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-148
Number of pages6
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • Aviation accident
  • Epidemiology
  • Human factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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