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Fatigue: A Serious Factor in Transportation Accidents

The voices of two pilots from the grave may someday impact legislation concerning human fatigue.

On August 14, 2013, a United Parcel Service (UPS) Airbus plowed into an Alabama hillside after an early morning flight from Kentucky. The flight crew of two and the airplane were destroyed.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) undertook investigation of the accident. At a hearing in February of this year, the flight recorder gave startling evidence of the condition, and the thoughts, of the pilots as their doomed flight approached its end.

  • Prior to take-off, Capt. Cerea Beal Jr. mentioned to a colleague, “These schedules over the past several years are killing me.”
  • Discussing the disparity between rest hour requirements between passenger and cargo pilots, First Officer Shanda Fanning said, “It should be across the board to be honest. In my opinion, whether you are flying passengers or cargo…”

The crash and the comments fuel continued controversy about fatigue as a factor in transportation accidents. Whether driving a car, piloting an airplane or at the throttle of a commuter train, fatigue is a deadly condition.

When determining fatigue as an accident factor, the NTSB considers criteria including:

  • Sleep deprivation: Was there acute sleep loss or a long-term sleep debt?
  • Wakefulness: The total number of hours awake contributes to functional capability.
  • Sleep cycle: The human body naturally cycles through circadian rhythms. When sleep cycles are disturbed, function and wakefulness decline.
  • Sleep disorders: Sleep apnea and other physical conditions may contribute to a transportation accident.

Not yet issued, the NTSB investigative report on this accident may provide the push to equalize rest hours for cargo. It is too late for pilots Cerea and Fanning.

If you are injured in an accident in New York by a drowsy or impaired driver, speak with an experienced injury attorney.

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