Viagra suspected in crash of plane Investigators ask medical examiner to run tests for drug

November 24, 1998|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Kris Antonelli and TaNoah Morgan contributed to this article.

Federal investigators are looking into the possibility that the pilot who crashed his experimental airplane Saturday into Edgewater's Beards Creek was impaired by side effects of taking Viagra.

While they have not ruled out pilot or mechanical error in the crash that killed William Gardner Knight, 56, an actor from Delray Beach, Fla., investigators have asked the state medical examiner to run blood tests today to look for Viagra.

Kathryn Creedy, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, confirmed that this is the first time the anti-impotence drug has been associated with an actual crash, although the FAA recommended recently that commercial flight crew members not fly within six hours of taking the drug.

"Viagra affects pilots' color vision, possibly impairing their ability to distinguish between blue and green. These colors are used extensively in airport lighting and cockpit instrumentation," Creedy said.

Pamela Gemmel, a spokeswoman for Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company that makes Viagra, said that when it was tested on men, 3 percent reported "visual disturbances" that ranged from sensitivity to light to seeing a bluish-green haze.

Authorities would not publicly disclose how Viagra came to figure in their crash investigation. Knight, who appeared in "Wall Street," "Born on the Fourth of July," "The Doors" and "Navy Seals," left Delray Beach on Saturday morning and made two stops before trying to land at Lee Airport in Edgewater about 5: 30 p.m.

Witnesses in the Berkshire residential area of Edgewater heard a loud "pop, then a bang," according to investigators, when the red and gray plane plunged into Beards Creek, sinking about 12 feet to the muddy bottom. Coast Guard divers needed five hours to locate the Burgess RV-6 airplane, which had been custom-built for Knight.

The engine appears to have been stopped before the plane hit the water, said Larry Walker, who is heading the investigation for Anne Arundel County Police. The plane had sufficient fuel.

The medical examiner's office ruled yesterday that Knight's death from a head injury was accidental.

The actor was flying to visit Jefferson Cunningham, a friend who docked his boat near Annapolis during the winter. They had been friends since 1965, when they met while working at Chase Manhattan Bank.

"Billy loved life. He was a dynamo," said Cunningham in an interview yesterday. "He loved to fly, to dive and to put on air shows."

Knight was president of All-American Air Shows, a company that produced air shows throughout the Northeast. He enjoyed vintage World War II aircraft, and customized the license plate of his Saab to read "WARBIRDZ."

"He had always been fascinated by warplanes, that was his life," said his brother, Milton Knight. "He was an incredibly sensitive, kind individual."

Knight wrote novels, hunted big game and had been flying for the past 15 years, even performing stunt maneuvers. He worked in Naval Intelligence in the late 1960s.

His airplane cost between $50,000 and $60,000 to build. About 1,000 planes like it exist in the world, including most of the fleet of the Nigerian Air Force, Cunningham said. Knight painted his plane the same colors as that fleet.

Pub Date: 11/24/98

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