Pilot sentenced to jail for lying on medical application

March 25, 2008

Pilot sentenced to jail for lying on medical application

By Alyssa J. Miller

Ronald Crews was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison and two years of supervised release on March 20 after pleading guilty in 2007 to four counts of making false statements to a federal agency, according to the District of Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office. Crews had made false statements to the FAA about his diabetes and dependence on insulin injections.

The charges resulted from an investigation into a February 2002 incident in which Crews suffered a diabetic seizure while conducting an air taxi flight from Vineyard, Mass., to Hyannis for Massachusetts-based Cape Air. One of the four passengers on board the twin-engine Cessna 402 air taxi flight was a student pilot, who subsequently took control of the aircraft, according to the FAA’s aviation safety information and analysis sharing brief report.

The student pilot, Melanie Oswalt, had the other three passengers restrain Crews, who was incoherent and had pushed her aside while she tried to move into the co-pilot seat, reports the Cape Cod Times . Oswalt landed gear up at Provincetown Municipal Airport in Provincetown, Mass. No one was injured, and the airplane sustained minimal damage.

After the February Cape Air incident, two more were attributed to Crews’ medical condition, and he was fired and lost his pilot certificate, according to the Cape Cod Times.

“It is imperative that pilots not lie on their medical application or continue flying when they know they aren’t fit for flight,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “While this incident is extremely rare, it is a strong warning to all pilots.”

While this case involved an air taxi pilot, general aviation pilots can learn some valuable lessons.

The FAA medical application form warns pilots about the consequences of falsifying information: “Whoever in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or who makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or entry, may be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”

Had Crews disclosed his medical condition to the FAA, he would not have been able to receive a first or second class medical certificate. Those who control their diabetes with insulin injections can only get a special issuance third class medical certificate and fly as a student, recreational, or private pilot. Pilots who control their diabetes with diet or oral medication can get a first, second, or third class special issuance medical certificate.

“Don’t try to hide a medical condition from the FAA. It’s illegal, can end your pilot privileges, and result in a hefty fine or jail time,” said Gary Crump, AOPA director of medical certification. “There is hope that you can continue flying—legally—if you have a serious illness that is safely controlled. The FAA is issuing special issuance certificates for more previously disqualifying medical conditions than ever.”

As AOPA has previously reported, a pilot who had a heart transplant is back in the air, and a pilot with multiple sclerosis still has her wings.

“Each year we help thousands of AOPA members with serious illnesses, even cancer, get back in the air legally,” said Crump. “Before you give up on flying or go to your next flight physical, talk to our medical specialists. We can help.”

AOPA’s medical certification specialists are available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern by calling 800/USA-AOPA or by e-mail.

March 25, 2008

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Miller | AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Miller has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.