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Waltermire Pilot ‘Not Found Eligible’ For Medical Certificate

January 25, 1989

HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ The pilot of a plane that crashed last April, killing the Montana secretary of state, may not have been medically qualified to fly and may have suffered a heart attack just before the crash, federal authorities say.

Crashes like the one that killed Jim Waltermire have resulted in a recommendation that the Federal Aviation Administration tighten regulation of the medical condition of pilots, an investigator said.

Waltermire, 39, and the 64-year-old pilot, James Andrew Morris, died April 8 when the twin-engine plane they were flying crashed in a snowstorm.

At the time, Waltermire was the leading candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. He was returning to Helena after a campaign appearance.

The National Transportation Safety Board report did not decide the cause of the crash, saying the airplane was destroyed and there was little evidence on what happened before the crash.

However, NTSB investigator Verlin Tranter said Morris’ medical history suggests that he ″may have suffered an acute incapacitating event″ such as a heart attack or stroke under the stress of the difficult landing.

H.C. Burton, the FAA flight surgeon in Salt Lake City who reviewed Morris’ file after the crash, said Tuesday that Morris had heart problems and high blood pressure that required drugs to control.

Authorities at the FAA’s Aeromedical Certification Branch in Oklahoma City, concerned about Morris’ heart problems, had written to the pilot only three days before the crash asking for more medical information, Burton said.

Had that review been begun earier, officials said, the veteran pilot may have been found medically unfit to continue flying. But they stressed that at the time of the crash, Morris’ permission to fly had not been revoked and he had done nothing illegal.

″I don’t think Mr. Morris was trying to violate anything,″ Tranter said Wednesday. ″But he was getting up there in years.″

Tranter said Morris had a valid certificate for a commercial pilot.

But in a telephone interview Wednesday, Tranter said Morris may have held the certificate only because lax supervision of medical records at the FAA branch.

He said that when a medical certificate is issued after a quick examination, the examination report is sent to the FAA center for more detailed evaluation. The FAA center can ask for more information if it doubts a pilot’s fitness to fly - as it did in Morris’ case. During that evaluation, the certificate remains valid.

Tranter and Burton said Morris had a history of ″ischemic events″ - similar to minor heart attacks - and an electrocardiogram suggested possible heart muscle damage. But Morris showed no symptoms of heart disease and denied experiencing chest pain.

″Nevertheless,″ Burton said, ″the conditions were in place to explain an acute cardiovascular event. The severe stress he was encountering in landing that plane could have been the precipitating factor.″

Tranter said that as a result of the Waltermire crash and similar incidents, the NTSB has recommended the FAA change its procedures, possibly by revoking a medical certificate immediately if the evaluation center has doubts about a pilot’s medical fitness.

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