Powerful prescription drugs found in accident pilot’s body

 - April 2, 2007, 1:12 PM

A cocktail of prescription drugs was found in the body of the pilot of a King Air that crashed on April 4, 2003, at 9:35 a.m. in Leominster, Mass. The NTSB factual report, just released, revealed that post-mortem tests showed he had morphine, antidepressants desipramine and imipramine and anticonvulsant carbamazepine in his system. A combination of the drugs could cause drowsiness and lack of coordination.

The pilot, Robert Monaco, 49, had been diagnosed with viral meningitis in January 2002 after experiencing “incapacitating” shooting pain throughout his body, “explosive headaches, episodes of not knowing where he is, seizure and migraine.”
Yet on his last airman medical application in April 2002, a year before the crash, the pilot replied that he currently did not use any medication. He also replied “no” for item 18.l, “Neurological disorders: epilepsy, seizures, stroke, paralysis, etc.,” and “no” for item 19, “Visits to health professional within last three years.”

All but one of the occupants of the airplane were killed when King Air B200 N257CG hit a sheet-metal factory in Leominster while on approach to Fitchburg Municipal Airport (FIT), Mass., at 9:35 a.m. The airplane, registered to FS Corsair of Concord, Mass., and operating as a Part 91 flight, was substantially damaged. Killed along with the pilot were philanthropist and developer M. Anthony Fisher (chairman of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City) and his wife, Anne; Michael Campanelli and Thomas Fox, both of New York; and the copilot, also listed as a pilot-rated passenger, Eric Jacobson of Peabody, Mass. The Fishers’ 13-year-old daughter, Tora, survived.

The pilot and Jacobson flew from Hanscom Field (BED), Bedford, Mass., to New York La Guardia International Airport (LGA) to pick up the five passengers. After leaving LGA on an IFR flight plan and in IMC to Bedford, the crew amended the destination to Fitchburg, planning to drop off two passengers at Fitchburg, then continue to Martha’s Vineyard with the rest of the passengers. Visibility at Fitchburg was 1.5 to five miles in fog, freezing rain and light snow, with an overcast that ranged from 700 to 1,400 feet. A special weather observation at FIT at 9:31 a.m. included wind from 070 degrees at nine knots; visibility three miles in mist; ceiling broken at 1,100 feet agl, with an overcast at 1,700 feet; temperature 29 degrees F; and dew point 27 degrees F. Both the -

The pilot contacted Boston Tracon at 9:18 a.m. and requested the GPS Runway 14 approach at Fitchburg. At 9:21 a.m. the airplane was cleared for the approach. Two minutes later the controller asked N257CG, “You just gonna, ah, go to the VOR and turn inbound on the approach?”

The pilot responded, “Affirm, Seven Charlie Golf.” At 9:23 a.m. he said, “Actually, I suppose direct ah with that ADISS would be OK.”

ATC asked the pilot to repeat his transmission, and he again stated, “Direct ADISS or whatever you call it would be fine, too.”

At 9:25 a.m. ATC asked the pilot if he had the weather at Fitchburg, and he replied, “Affirmative.”

At 9:27 a.m. the pilot said, “And, ah, King Air Two Five Seven Charlie Golf on the way to whatever it’s called.”

ATC asked the pilot to repeat his transmission, and at 9:28 a.m. he said, “Direct CANAT for Seven Charlie Golf.”

At 9:28 a.m. ATC advised the pilot to “change to advisory and report cancellation in the air or promptly on the ground with Bridgeport FSS.”

At 9:29 a.m. the pilot responded, “It will probably be on the ground, thanks Seven Charlie Golf.”

ATC received no more transmissions from the airplane.

According to the surviving passenger, Tora Fisher, “everything seemed fine” during the flight, until her father reported they were circling the airport and were “close to landing.” She felt the airplane enter a left turn, in which the airplane became “almost completely upside down.” The airplane briefly straightened out, then entered another left turn with a bank angle of the same severity. The airplane then seemed to roll level “just for a second,” then entered a dive “straight down” until it hit the building.

Tora also noted that the engines were running “normally” throughout the entire flight, and she did not recall any unusual sounds. The steep turns did not concern her, she told the NTSB, as she had flown with the pilot before and knew he “liked to make sharp turns.”

She said she was unable to see the ground during the sequence of turns, but saw it briefly “just a split second before impact.”

Several witnesses saw the airplane approach the airport. One saw it fly directly over Runway 14 “going in and out of low scattered clouds.” The airplane turned slightly to the right to join a left downwind for Runway 32, “in close, and very slow and low.”
The airplane continued on a close tight downwind, making a slight left turn, then a steep left base-to-final turn, “90 degrees wings up.” The witness then saw the airplane disappear behind the tree line in a left-wing-down attitude.

Another witness saw the airplane at an altitude of approximately 450 feet as it made a “continual” left base-to-final turn. The nose was “being held level, until the airplane stalled and descended to the ground.” One witness saw the airplane make a turn “so sharp that the wings were vertical,” then enter a “nosedive.” Another witness saw the King Air flying east, “just above the tree line and just below the cloud deck.” Its landing gear was down and both propellers were turning. The airspeed was “extremely slow,” and the airplane appeared to be flying with “not enough lift.” In addition, the weather conditions were “extremely poor,” with a low cloud deck and freezing rain.

Radar data showed that the accident airplane descended along the GPS Runway 14 final approach course at an average groundspeed of 120 knots. It descended from 2,800 feet at the final approach fix to 1,600 feet at the missed approach point (MAP). After crossing the MAP at 9:32 a.m., the target maintained approximately the same course and continued to descend, passing over the approach end of Runway 2 at an altitude of about 1,300 feet. It continued along the same course, until the last radar return was recorded at an altitude of 800 feet at 9:34 a.m. The last radar return was positioned to the left of course, and was located approximately one nautical mile from the threshold of Runway 32.