ATLANTA, Ga. — The federal agency investigating plane crashes thinks a cheap piece of equipment could save lives.
But another government agency will not allow it.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been fighting for nearly 20 years to require carbon monoxide detectors in small airplanes, according to our news partners at WSB-TV.
They cost a few hundred dollars and can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning which has led to dozens of deadly crashes.
Matthew Dekle vividly remembers the last time he spoke with his father Millwood.
“He called me from the runway and said, ‘I’m on the runway. I’m about to take off,’” Dekle said.
It was about an hour later that Gregg Wyatt saw Millwood’s plane flying erratically above his antique store.
He thought it was a stunt plane.
“He was low. And the wings would tilt back and forth some,” Wyatt said.
He watched as the plane went down.
He and his daughter tried to rush to the scene of the crash.
“We all were in panic mode trying to locate and see if we could help,” he said.
By the time he got there, it was too late.
But it was months later before Dekle learned what caused his father’s deadly plane crash.
“Found out by the death certificate,” Dekle said.
It was carbon monoxide poisoning according to that death certificate and a later NTSB investigation.
Dekle’s is one of at least 31 crashes and 42 deaths tied to carbon monoxide on small planes by the NTSB.
Dan Bass is one of the few to survive one of these crashes.
“I just woke up and thought I was flying,” Bass said.
A flying instructor himself he said he thought he’d caught a cold from his toddler or was suffering a caffeine withdrawal headache.
“It turned out that by the time I was getting symptoms, my cognitive ability was knocked down just enough that I never made the connections,” he said.
There is a simple fix. Just like your home, you can get a carbon monoxide detector for a plane.
“It’s available, developed, proven technology,” Jeff Marcus, the chief of the NTSB’s Safety Recommendations Division, said.
“We have accident experience that shows that carbon monoxide leaks happen and that they bring down airplanes,” Marcus added.
In 2022, the NTSB sent a letter to the FAA recommending a rule requiring all small planes to have a carbon monoxide detector onboard.
NTSB made the same recommendation before in 2004.
The standards are already there. The products are already there. Everything has been done, but the requirement for it,” Marcus said.
But so far, the FAA has refused to require detectors, only recommending them.
The FAA’s position is that regular maintenance and inspections would catch any carbon monoxide leaks.
“I think that if there is a problem in between inspections, then you’re dead,” Dekle said.
The FAA said that it is continuing to evaluate the data and will update NTSB in May 2024.
But for Dekle, it’s not complicated. He believes an FAA requirement for carbon monoxide detectors could have saved his father’s life.
“If he had a warning, he could have landed,” Matthew Dekle said.
The NTSB said without a requirement it’s hard to track how many people have voluntarily installed the detectors in their planes.
Pilots are trained to watch for signs of poisoning but some say carbon monoxide interferes with their ability to do that.
©2023 Cox Media Group