NTSB: Pilot In Fatal Ted Christopher Plane Crash Had Medical Certification Denied A Decade Earlier

Ted Christopher following his SK Modified victory on Sept. 10, 2017 at Thompson Speedway, the final victory of his career (Photo: Shawn Courchesne/RaceDayCT)

The pilot of the plane that crashed in 2017 taking the life of local short track racing legend Ted Christopher was not certified to fly at the time of the crash because of medical conditions dating back more than a decade.

Pilot Patrick Dundas had his flight certification denied by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2007 according to a report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board. 

Christopher was killed on Sept. 16, 2017 when the single engine 1964 Mooney M20C he was a passenger in crashed in North Branford. Christopher was 59 years old at the time of the crash. 

Christopher was travelling from Robertson Field Airport in Plainville, Connecticut and was destined for Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, New York. Christopher was scheduled to compete in a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway that evening. 

The NTSB released its Aviation Accident Factual Report publicly on the crash on Tuesday. A further extended conclusive report is expected at a later date. 

The NTSB investigation reports “Loss of engine power” as the defining cause of the crash. 

Dundas, who was 81 years old at the time of the crash, had a history heart issues that first put restrictions on his flying in 2002 and ultimately were the cause for his medical certificate to fly to be declined in 2007 by the FAA. 

According to the NTSB report:

“The pilot had previously reported hypertension and ischemic cardiomyopathy due to severe coronary artery disease that had been treated with three-vessel coronary artery bypass grafting in 2001. He had obtained a special issuance medical certificate beginning in 2002 and had reported using various medications over the years. No other abnormalities were identified on the physical exam and the pilot was initially issued a second-class medical certificate limited by a requirement to wear corrective lenses and specifying, “Limited second class/Full third class privileges; Not valid for carrying passengers or cargo for compensation except if serving as pilot of fully qualified 2-pilot crew; Not valid for any class after 10/31/2007.” The pilot subsequently had an internal defibrillator placed and his medical certificate was denied in December 2007.” 

Mike Christopher Sr. said he doesn’t think his twin brother Ted had any idea that Dundas has his medical certification to fly denied years earlier. Ted Christopher had reportedly flown with Dundas for upwards of 20 years. 

“I had no idea,” Mike Christopher Sr. said Wednesday. “I flew with the guy a year before [the crash]. I always figured Pat was good. I’m sure my brother felt the same way. Maybe he didn’t know that he didn’t have medical clearance? I don’t know. It’s like, he flew with the guy for 20 something years. … I’m sure my brother probably didn’t know anything about that. It all sucks.” 

While the report shows no indication that any sort of medical emergency was cause for the crash, the fact that Dundas was not supposed to be flying ultimately could have proved a factor in the crash. 

Dundas did not file a formal flight plan for the flight, which meant he was essentially taking a low flight plan to avoid flying at a higher altitude under instrument flight rules, in which a flight plan would have to be filed. Had he filed a flight plan it would have been discovered that he was flying without medical certification.

Dundas had his Airline Transport Pilot certificate (ATP rated), which is the highest level of aircraft pilot certificate in the United States 

Barry Burke, an experienced Connecticut pilot and aircraft owner told RaceDayCT Wednesday that higher altitude equals more options during an emergency situation. 

“If he was legal for medical he would have had the option of flying higher, in instrument conditions.” Burke said. “Altitude is options. There’s no saying he would have chosen those options. He was ATP rated with 31,000 hours [of previous flying experience], and it was warm and ice-free, so I don’t see why else he would have avoided clouds.” 

According to the report issues were found with the selector valve that would allow switching between the left and right fuel tanks. A mass of reddish fibers consistent with cotton shop towels was found in the fuel selector valve.

According to the NTSB report: 

“The fuel selector valve was removed from the airframe and air pressure applied to the valve fuel outlet port. Air did not pass through the selector valve when the handle was in the position marked “LEFT.” The handle was moved to the “OFF” position, then back to the “LEFT” position, and it remained blocked. Air did not pass through the valve when the actuator handle was placed in the position marked “OFF” or in the rearward, unmarked position. Air passed freely when the handle was placed in the position marked “RIGHT.” When the handle was returned to the position marked “LEFT,” no air passed through the selector valve. The selector handle moved normally with no unusual resistance between the settings.

“The valve was disassembled and a spongy mass of reddish fibers consistent in appearance with red cotton shop towel fibers were observed in the selector cavity. The rounded mass was about 5/8 inches in length and about 3/8 inches in width. Fibers also covered about 5% of the fuel drain screen.” 

Investigators also found a makeshift tool at the crash scene seemingly fabricated to switch the fuel tank selector knob during flight. 

According to the NTSB report: 

“A section of PVC similar to plumbing or electrical conduit was discovered in the wreckage. It was made up of five individually-threaded, male-to-female connections which, when threaded together, measured about 9 inches long. On the top of the device was a PVC pipe in the shape of a handle. The entire device was in three separate pieces when discovered; the top of the t-handle was broken from the device and the bottom section was unscrewed. On each side of the handle was a label indicating “LEFT” and “RIGHT.” The top of the handle was labeled “FUEL.” On the bottom of the T-handle connection, the vertical pipe appeared to be hand carved/shaved so that it would fit into the top section of the devise There was a 3/4-inch notch cut out on the bottom of the device. When the device was reassembled during the examination, it fit into the airplane fuel selector handle, and appeared to be designed to switch the fuel tanks; however, the reason for its fabrication and use was unknown.” 

Said Burke: “What really grabs me in that report is the shop rag fibers in the fuel selector and the PVC handle. The propeller section of the report pretty clearly demonstrates the engine was not running at time of impact. Running engines bend prop blades into esses, dead engines end up with one or two bent straight back and at least one straight blade. There was 7.5 gallons of fuel in the left tank, which was selected, but apparently blocked with cotton fibers. I wonder if the pilot switched tanks at altitude to the left tank, the engine quit, and the homemade device either broke trying to switch [back] to the right tank or was in an inaccessible location.  I’ve never flown an M20, but apparently the fuel selector is difficult to reach when belted, as there’s a commercial tool available.” 

According to the report the plane’s first point of impact was in 75-foot tall pine trees in a nose-down attitude with a wreckage path 175 feet long. There was an open field about 1,500 feet north of the crash site. The landing gear had been extended at the time of the crash. 

“The fact that the gear was down, the condition of the propeller, the fuel selector blockage, the final heading and extreme nose down crash support trying to glide to an open field without power,” Burke said. “The airplane probably stalled while attempting to stretch the glide.

“All wings stall at a specific angle of attack to the relative wind.  To maintain the same abount of lift, a wing needs to increase the angle of attack as speed decreases.  During a power off glide, the relative wind is approaching from an angle below due to the descent. All airplanes have a power off “best glide speed” which is the speed where maximum lift and lowest drag occur. During an emergency descent, you establish that speed and trade altitude for distance.  Very near the ground, it’s common for accident pilots to raise the nose trying to glide farther, inducing a stall with too much angle of attack, and causing the plane to drop nose first.     According to Mooney M20C docs online, that plane glides best with flaps up, which is where they were found.” 

Christopher was known as one of the leading and most diverse short track drivers in America over two decades. He was also known for a confident bravado like few others in the local short track racing scene. In the ranks of New England Modified racing he was most commonly referred to by two monikers, either simply “TC” or “The King”. He was the 2001 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national short track champion. He also won the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.

Christopher was the all-time winningest driver at both Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway. He was also a longtime regular competitor at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

At Stafford Motor Speedway he competed weekly in the track’s premier division, the SK Modifieds. He had a division leading six victories this year, with his last win coming on Sept. 8. He finished fourth in the SK Modified feature Friday at Stafford.

He had 109 career SK Modified victories at Stafford Speedway and nine championships in the division. Overall he had 131 victories at the track overall since 1986. His next closet competitor on the all-time wins list at the track was Woody Pitkat with 77 victories.

At Thompson Speedway he had won one of two SK Modified features at the track in the last event there on Sept. 10. It was his 99th victory overall at the facility. At the New London-Waterford Speedbowl he had 48 career victories.

He was the third winningest driver of all-time on the Whelen Modified Tour with 42 career victories in 372 starts dating back to the 1987 season.

Christopher long had a reputation for racing anything anytime. From local Midgets divisions, to SuperModifieds, to indoor events in Three-Quarter Midgets to competing twice at the top level of Sports Car racing at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He had made six career starts in NASCAR’s top-level Monster Energy Cup Series. He had 21 career starts in NASCAR’s second level Xfinity Series. In NASCAR’s regional K&N Pro Series East he had 10 career victories in 92 starts from 1990 to 2008.




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Comments

  1. I’m sick to my stomach. This is awful. I can’t believe T.C. Knew this. Can’t bring him back. This news SUCKS Royally!!!

  2. This is very odd…. I lost my medical a few years back, after a near fatal medical condition, and I’ve been working very hard, and spending alot of money, i don’t have, to get recertified, it’s not easy, and it may not ever happen… i cannot fly without an instructor present, and logged as pic (pilot in command) i don’t understand how he could possibly fly, without getting caught… no matter the altitude, he was crossing some very busy air spaces, and Had to be in contact with many different Atc’s… and no ramp checks at any of the airports he used???? This is Very strange….

  3. Thanks for the article shawn,

    This would be so much easier to take if it wasn’t carelessness or neglect that caused the plane to go down. Medical denial of his license means little seeing as how it wasn’t a medical issue that brought them down. Maybe it does to some effect because as other pilots said altitude allows time to correct problems and he couldn’t because of his license, but billys comment makes the most sense. How many ATC’s or towers did he get clearance from? He had to request a landing or permission to take off. Or am i wrong. Is it one of those good ole boys i know him, hes fine, til hes not kinda things. Was it not his plane, did he use someone elses name or plane? Lots of unanswered questions. Just makes it that much worse to know what i know now.

  4. Thank you Shawn for this article. Although this really sucks that the pilot shouldn’t have been flying, and he slipped through the fingers of aviation law, I’m glad this was made pulic. Thanks again

  5. I agree Shawn, Thanks for letting us know “The Truth”!! Even though it Hurts !!!

  6. You guys that are or were pilots I’ll ask. From the time you start training isn’t it drilled into your heads what an awesome responsibility it is? This isn’t a police State. Not every qualification can be checked all the time especially in view of the amount of traffic going in and out. Didn’t this pilot forget his responsibility to his passenger, people on the ground he put at risk, anyone associated with the aircraft, flight controllers etc.
    I don’t know if his estate has any money left but it won’t now and rightfully so.

  7. The 81 yr old pilot with 31k hours of flying, ATP rated, lost his medical in 2007 and red fibers related to cloth rags found in the fuel selector valve appear as several factors in this crash. Fitness to fly and sketchy fuel valve repair may be major contributing factors. Disregarding FAA regulations from losing his medical seems out of place for a pilot whose career flying those 31k hours required adherence to regs. An amazing feat in itself. To disregard regs yet continue flying when a medical disqualification occurred back in ’07 seems to show the reverse of self discipline needed of every pilot to determine when not to fly……

  8. To moderators; please include this addendum to my post.

    Perhaps when the final NTSB report is issued, detailed info may reveal more info on this tragedy to attempt to show what issues can be avoided to prevent another flight accident.

  9. While the medical issue is the lede of this article and seems to be getting most of the attention in the comments, don’t overlook the rigged fuel selector valve. IMO, that is the primary reason for the crash. It certainly seems that the pilot wasn’t one to do things by-the-book when it comes to safety. Using a makeshift fuel selector valve tool that apparently failed/broke (or was out of reach), and having shop rag remnants clogging the valve itself will, I feel, eventually be deemed the cause of his and TC’s demise. Flying at a lower altitude to evade his certification situation being discovered is a contributing factor.

  10. Shawn, great report. I’ve been involved in a few investigations of aircraft crashes and equipment failures. The conditions here, and seemingly compounding conditions, are awful.

    The investigation will look into the fuel system blockage. Who was doing the maintenance on the plane? Was the person doing the repairs properly credentialed and certified? Dundas may have been doing work on the plane to evade official record keeping by certified aircraft shops and mechanics. Was this plane owned by Dundas? If the plane was owned by Dundas, this would have been another path that could have exposed that he was piloting while he was not credentialed. If he was not allowed to fly, who was piloting his plane the last ten or so years? There should be maintenance records over the last ten years.

    I’ve had a couple surgeries. When I meet with the surgeons, I interview THEM. I ask about their education, med school, experience, law suit history, medical license status, insurance status, hospital privileges, etc. Interestingly, they are not offended at all. They tell me that all people need to screen the doctors as I do. We need to be more careful. The systems work most of the time.

    Dundas was 81 at the time of the accident. That was a huge red flag. That’s not ageism, it’s a fact. There are many health conditions that accompany aging that preclude a person from piloting, or place restrictions. It’s for the best interests of the pilot, passengers, and people and property on the ground.

  11. Thanks for the info. We all appreciate the explanations:)

  12. Having revoked medical doesn’t necessarily mean that the pilot was not allowed to fly. All revoked medical means is that be can’t fly commercially *for compensation*, but would be allowed to fly a small aircraft with 4 or less seats carrying a maximum of one passenger as a private or recreational pilot – as long as he had a valid license to fly, which it appears he did. The model aircraft they were in fits in the recreational and sport restrictions, which is why he flew under visible radar and didn’t file a flight path with the FAA prior to the flight – flying under a certain altitude means the FAA doesn’t need to be notified.
    Obviously there were maintenance issues that led to the shutdown of the aircraft and it appears he was trying to make it to the field 1500 feet away and was unsuccessful. It’s unfortunate all around, but it’s not fair to the pilot and his *also* grieving friends and family to be painting the picture that he shouldn’t have been flying when that may not necessarily be the case. We should probably let the NTSB finish and conclude their investigations before we start jumping to judgements and conclusions.

  13. Lauren,
    From the FAA website: Who must hold a Medical Certificate?
    Any person exercising the privileges of any of the following certificates: airline transport pilot certificate, commercial pilot certificate, private pilot certificate, recreational pilot certificate, flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command if serving as a required pilot flight crewmember), flight engineer certificate, flight navigator certificate, or student pilot certificate. People exercising private pilot privileges under BasicMed (or exercising any pilot privilege in a balloon or glider) are not required to hold a medical certificate. Source: Pilot Medical Certification Questions and Answers

  14. Lauren, read what Billy contributed. From his own experience, you appear to contradict him.

  15. Shawn,
    I was pleasantly surprised when you approved my comment, but see it’s only so that you can try to tell me I’m wrong.. but we are both correct.

    BasicMed is precisely what I mean by “may not necessarily be the case”. If he qualified for that then he could have *legally* operated a privately owned aircraft and fly with up to one passenger in the aircraft that they were in that is the exemption for not having valid medical.
    I’ll say again, its not fair to the pilot or his grieving family and friends to be painting the picture that he shouldn’t have been flying when that MAY NOT NECESSARILY BE THE CASE (as I exactly stated in my original comment) it’s always best to wait for all of the facts before we jump to conclusions and judgements and drag this poor *also tragically deceased* man and clearly a close personal friend of TC, through the mudd.

  16. Lauren,
    The BasicMed regulations clearly state under Operating Requirements:
    “Flight not operated for compensation or hire”. I can assure you that the pilot did not fly Ted Christopher for free. Ted paid Patrick Dundas to fly him. Source: FAA BasicMed

  17. To bad and sad for all involved, but what I found amazing was that Dadope didn’t do his own surgery

  18. Lauren, check this out from the NTSB release:

    “The pilot subsequently had an internal defibrillator placed and his medical certificate was denied in December 2007.”

    From a sites regarding an internal defibrillator (ICD):

    “The ICD device is inserted by cardiologists who feel that their patients have a condition that makes them “prone” to developing a heart rhythm that could lead to sudden death.”

    “The FAA’s position with this device is similar to that of flying while using an unacceptable medication. It is not so much the medication (or medical device) that is an issue with certification, but the actual medical condition.”

    What if a pilot has a cardio event and the ICD does not fire off?

    I know someone that has an ICD and he’s terrified of it. He couldn’t pilot after the device was installed. It kicks his butt if it should fire off. Also, an ICD is a serious treatment because the patient has a condition that without the ICD could result in sudden death.

    Dundas had a triple bypass, also a serious cardio condition. He had cardiomyopathy, another serious, progressive cardio condition.

    I wouldn’t fly with a pilot that had an ICD. From all I am seeing, someone with an ICD is not allowed to have a pilots license. We shall see what else turns up.

  19. George Buzel says

    It was loss of power and folks should not drag the pilot thru the mud without having the facts, the pilot was trying to land in a open field and didn’t make it in a power off glide..

  20. George,
    Nobody is dragging the pilot through the mud by reporting facts that were in a National Transportation Safety Board crash investigation report. There is nothing in the story about the pilot that is not factual.

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