Aviation Investigation Report A98H0003

1.13.4  Toxicological Information

Toxicological analysis of selected specimens from the human remains was undertaken, including both SR 111 pilots, at the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute to determine the presence or absence of products of combustion from the in-flight fire, in particular, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. The presence of either of these compounds in the specimens could indicate inhalation of smoke or fumes, or both, which would have assisted in providing some insight regarding the status of the cockpit and cabin environment prior to the time of impact.

None of the toxicological specimens submitted for testing were suitable for meaningful analysis of carbon monoxide. No cyanide was found in any of the specimens. This result may reflect the absence of sufficient smoke within the cabin for the cyanide compound to be absorbed in the tissues, or may reflect the unsuitability of the tissue specimens available for testing.

Both pilots were identified through DNA testing. Although carbon monoxide testing was attempted for both pilots, no useful results could be obtained because suitable toxicological specimens were not available. No cyanide was detected in either pilot. The absence of cyanide may be the result of the protection provided by the flight crew oxygen mask or other personal protective equipment, or of the unsuitability of the tissue specimens available for testing.

It is not unusual for ethanol to be detected during toxicological testing of aviation accident victim tissue specimens. Post-mortem ethanol production is the result of bacterial action and is part of the putrefaction process. The presence of ethanol depends on various factors, such as the nature and condition of the specimen; the environmental conditions to which the specimen tissues are exposed; the time duration before the specimen is recovered; and the opportunities for bacterial contamination to take place prior to, and during, the tissue recovery selection and handling process. To confirm the presence of suitable conditions for this phenomenon to occur, other specimens were tested from individuals who would not have been expected to have ingested alcohol because of age or cultural background. Of the six specimens tested, five tested positive for ethanol.

The remains of the pilots were tested for alcohol and drugs; no drugs were detected. There was no indication that either pilot ingested alcohol prior to, or during, the flight. Positive results for ethanol were obtained for both pilots; positive results can be the result of either ante-mortem ingestion or post-mortem production. Results obtained from specimens from other individuals confirmed that conditions existed for post-mortem alcohol production.

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Date modified :
2012-07-27