A man says his flight instructor was FaceTiming when their helicopter crashed

The crash occurred on Dec. 29, 2014.
The crash occurred on Dec. 29, 2014.
Image: Reuters/Marc Serota
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This post has been updated

The survivor of a helicopter crash in Florida says his flight instructor was using his iPhone before the aircraft crashed into the ground, killing the instructor.

Safety regulators in the US and Europe worry that pilots are increasingly distracted by electronic devices. If the allegation in Florida proves true, it would be the latest evidence that phones and flying don’t mix well.

The survivor of the crash, Jonathan Desouza, alleges in a lawsuit that his instructor, Luis Aviles, acted “recklessly” by using FaceTime, Apple’s video chatting app, during the training lesson. Desouza is suing Aviles’s estate along with the instructor’s employer and the owner of the helicopter, seeking compensation for injuries resulting from the Dec. 29, 2014, crash. Desouza says in the complaint that his spine, coccyx, and ribs were fractured.

An official from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told the Sun Sentinel that a report on the crash will take some time, and that the agency could not yet comment on what caused it, or whether Aviles was distracted while at the controls.

The civil complaint (pdf), which was filed with the Palm Beach Civil Circuit and provided to Quartz by Desouza’s lawyers, also argues that Desouza was not properly trained or briefed by Aviles or the Palm Beach Helicopters’ flight school.

Palm Beach Helicopters declined to comment on the lawsuit. Evelyn Roldan, the representative of Aviles’s estate listed in the complaint, did not return messages sent to her via Facebook. Update, Apr. 13: A lawyer listed as having represented the estate in probate court told Quartz by phone that he wasn’t involved in this matter and was unaware of the lawsuit.

In an interview with local media after the crash, Desouza said he was knocked unconscious by the impact with the ground and came to in a medical evacuation helicopter on his way to the Delray Medical Center.

Pilot distraction from personal electronic devices is a major concern for the NTSB, the US agency charged with investigating air accidents. On the NTSB’s 2014 list of “Most Wanted” advocacy priorities was “Eliminate Distraction in Transportation,” an item that focused squarely on electronic device use.

A medical helicopter crashed in 2011 after the pilot ran out of fuel mid-flight. The NTSB partially attributed this fatal oversight to the pilot being distracted by text messaging.

As Quartz has reported, some airline pilots aren’t getting the message. Commercial pilots are widely flouting civil aviation rules by posting cockpit selfies to Instagram. General aviation pilots, who are allowed to use PEDs in the cockpit, have also done so to their detriment. The NTSB has attributed a cause of a May 2014 crash near Denver to a photo snapping pilot.