A final report released by the National Transportation Safety Board blames poor health and poor judgment on the part of pilot Stephen Patterson for the August 2000 plane crash that killed a former state senator.
Mr. Patterson, 51, was a diabetic, and his blood sugar had shot up the morning he embarked on the flight to Portland, Maine, according to the report. His cargo load exceeded the plane's weight limit by more than 400 pounds, and he chose the short, upward-sloping Runway 5 for takeoff.
The board's conclusions appeared on its Web site Wednesday - a year and four months after the Piper Malibu Mirage carrying former Sen. Thomas Allgood Sr., 71; his wife, Thelma, 61; and their dog, Oz, exploded on impact with a brick wall outside Daniel Field.
Atlanta attorney Alan Armstrong, who is representing Mr. Patterson's widow, said he could not comment on the health issue because he had not studied it. He said the NTSB most always cites pilot error in fatal crashes.
"That's the convenient thing to do - blame somebody who's isn't living," the lawyer said.
Medical records revealed Mr. Patterson had hypertension and diet-controlled diabetes, the NTSB says. A toxicology exam showed Mr. Patterson's glucose level at 1,175 milligrams per deciliter in a urine sample.
But making assumptions about the pilot's condition at the time is difficult because the glucose reading came from a urine sample, not a blood sample, endocrinologists say.
Normal blood glucose levels range from 70 to 110 mg/dl before eating, and no higher than 140 afterward. High levels can affect mental and cognitive abilities.
There isn't a clear correlation between blood and urine levels, however, although 1,175 mg/dl in the urine is high for a diabetic, said Dr. Ali Rizvi, a diabetes specialist at University Hospital.
"I can't say to whether it was affecting his mental capabilities and reaction time," the doctor said.
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A wrongful-death and product liability lawsuit will be filed against the makers of the Piper Malibu Mirage on behalf of pilot Stephen Patterson's survivors, an attorney for the family says.
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