Fatal plane crash findings show opioids found in pilot’s system

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A Stevenson Ranch pilot killed in a 2016 Nevada plane crash along with his two passengers had several drugs, including morphine and other opioids in his system, researchers for the Federal Aviation Authority concluded.

Pilot Robert Drescher, 57, died Sept. 11, 2016, of multiple blunt force injuries as a result of a plane crash, according to the results of an autopsy performed by the Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office, in Nevada.

Medical findings made by the FAA’s Bio Aeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory showed Drescher had used three separate opioids at the time of the crash.

Details about drugs found in the pilot’s body were reported by Dr. Mary Pat McKay, chief medical examiner for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Drescher had a series of episodes of back pain for which he had been referred to a pain specialist, according to records from his primary care doctor cited by McKay in her summary. During his last visit to the primary care provider on Dec. 22, 2015, his ongoing use of oxycodone was 30 milligrams a day and his use of carisoprodol was 350 mg at bedtime.

The results of FAA toxicology tests however, revealed a litany of painkillers in his system.

Test results on the pilot’s urine found acetaminophen, hydrocodone (commonly known as Vicodin) and its active metabolite dihydrocodeine, ibuprofen, meprobamate, morphine, nordiazepam, oxazepam, temazepam and oxymorphone.

Blood tests showed he also had traces of diazepam (commonly known as Valium), and its active metabolite, nordiazepam.

Plane crash

Shortly before 6:15 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2016, Drescher’s single-engine Piper airplane crashed in an airport parking lot after having taken off from Reno/Tahoe International Airport, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB provided the following account of the events leading up to the crash:

The purpose of the flight was to transport Ronni Hernandez, 34, identified as the rear-seat passenger, from Nevada to California, where a series of warrants had been issued for her arrest.

The front-seat passenger was identified as Edward Mumbert, 46, a California-based bail bondsman from Santa Cruz. Drescher was his associate.

After the plane was fueled at 5:25 p.m. that day, the pilot went to his plane.

About five minutes later the bail bondsman arrived with the arrested passenger, who was restrained by leg chains.

Although her entry into the airplane was obscured from view by the fuselage, she appeared to make multiple attempts to step up into the cabin.

After about three minutes of maneuvering, she was onboard, followed by the bail bondsman.

Drescher started up the engine at 5:53 p.m. and the airplane taxied away from the ramp shortly after 6 p.m.

According to witnesses, the airplane began its takeoff roll from the threshold of runway 25 and, following rotation, climbed to about 200 to 300 feet above ground level before leveling off.

One witness said the airplane initiated its rotation abeam his position and immediately began to rock around its longitudinal axis.

The nose then pitched up to a high angle and remained in that attitude as the airplane continued flying above the runway while slowly climbing.

He stated that the airplane’s wing-rocking movements were far more exaggerated than anything he had seen at the airport before.

He then watched as the airplane began to veer to the right.

About 90 seconds after issuing the takeoff clearance, the airport tower controller, concerned that the airplane was not gaining altitude, asked the pilot if he was OK.

“We got a problem”

Drescher responded: “Negative we got, ah, we got a problem.”

Ten seconds later, the tower controller cleared the pilot to land on any runway.

The pilot did not make any further transmissions.

Security-camera footage revealed that the airplane continued over the runway and began to veer to the right of the runway centerline.

The airplane then began a descending right turn when the plane’s right wing hit a lamppost in the airport parking lot.

The impact took off the plane’s right wing, causing the plane to immediately roll right, hitting parked vehicles and the ground.

Medical records

The pilot had an episode of back pain and pain radiating down one leg in March 2014, according to records obtained from the pilot’s primary care physician, for the period between 2013-16.

It was treated with opioid medication and resolved but recurred in February 2015. After more opioids and steroid injections, it resolved.

In May 2015, it recurred. During the appointment with his primary care provider, the pilot specifically asked for “stronger” medications.

He was referred to a pain specialist. His last visit to the primary care provider was on Dec. 22, 2015, when his ongoing use of oxycodone was 30 milligrams per day and use of carisoprodol was 350 milligrams at bedtime.

That doctor’s visit was for a foot injury. No further visits were documented.

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