Report: Pilot tested positive for drugs

Published 12:31 am Wednesday, June 6, 2007

NATCHEZ — The pilot of the private airplane carrying two Natchez men that crashed in Waco, Texas, in December tested positive for marijuana, painkillers and weight-loss drugs, according to a federal report released last week.

Justin Cardneaux had evidence of marijuana in his blood, liver and lungs, the National Transportation Safety Board report states.

Toxicological tests also found painkillers dihydrocodeine and hydrocodone in his blood, weight-loss drug phentermine in his blood and liver, and anti-nausea medicine promethazine in his blood and liver.

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The twin-engine Cessna 310Q took off from the Natchez-Adams County Airport Dec. 10, 2006.

Cardneaux was flying Natchez residents Barr Brown and Jerry Roberts to a business meeting in Waco when the plane crashed, catching fire and killing all three men.

According to the report, a witness said it was dark and the weather was overcast with light rain and fog and a 200-foot ceiling.

The pilot called to get weather briefings, and each time, a briefer provided reports of the weather at the airport, alerting him to fly in using electronic instruments because of the weather conditions.

According to the report, the pilot had not met the federally required number of flights in the past six months using operating instruments only.

Federal regulations require every pilot to fly six hours and six approaches every six months to keep in practice, Natchez-Adams County Airport Manager Clint Pomeroy said.

“Even if you don’t have a trip, you have to go up and practice with a safety pilot to stay current,” Pomeroy said.

The plane came in slowly and at a low altitude, according to the report. The plane gained some altitude before it descended again.

Over a period of 30 seconds, the plane dropped from 1,100 feet to 600 feet, the report states.

The National Transportation Safety Board will analyze the results of the report and come to a determination as to the cause of the crash, NTSB Public Affairs Officer Keith Holloway said. That analysis could take 12 to 18 months from the date of the crash, he said.

The list of drugs reportedly found in Cardneaux’s system could have various effects, said Susan Wellman, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Wellman had no connection to the investigation or report.

“Hydrocodone will make people quite drowsy, among other things,” Wellman said. “THC (marijuana) produces a feeling of euphoria and may also make people feel somewhat lethargic.”

Wellman could not say whether or not the amount of marijuana found in the pilot’s blood meant he had taken the drug recently.

Promethazine, another drug found in the pilot’s body, is used for anti-nausea, she said.

“It’s basically an antihistamine,” Wellman said. “It produces prominent sedation.”

The diet drug phentermine might have the opposite effect, she said.

“The diet drug might counterbalance that, making (a person) somewhat agitated and wakeful,” she said.

The mix of those drugs might have an overall sedative effect, she said.

“Generally, it would be best to avoid drugs that produce sedation when operating machinery requiring a lot of attention to detail or quick responses,” Wellman said. “You could lose your focus, fail to notice something or forget to do something you needed to do. You could even fall asleep.”

James Cockerham, passenger Jerry Roberts’ stepfather, said he and Roberts’ mother, Sue Cockerham, did not know about the report’s release.

After reading over the report, Cockerham said they both were upset.

“There are several things in there that are just disturbing to me,” he said. “His mom is just devastated over the report. It’s fresh to her all over again. It’s kind of like you relive it.

“We’re going to try to put our lives together and move on. Hopefully, we can get our lives together in the months to come. We’re just trying to deal with it as best we can.”

Beth Brown, passenger Barr Brown’s husband, said she wasn’t aware the report had been released.

“My only comment is that this is far too painful to discuss,” Brown said.

Members of the Cardneaux family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The NTSB’s report is available at