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Distracted Pilot

On paper, Michael Hillis was a sound enough pilot. When things went wrong, though, the 29-year-old captain tensed up. For that reason, Hillis had been asked to leave Cincinnati-based Comair, but he caught on quickly with American Eagle, and was at the controls of Flight 3379 as it descended toward the airport in Raleigh, N.C. At exactly 30 seconds after 6:33 p.m., two minutes and 4 miles from the airport, a panel light in the cockpit lit up. Hillis and his copilot, Matthew Sailor, had been trained to recognize the light as a signal that an engine had quit. Quickly, they set about determining which one. In doing so, however, they forgot about flying the plane. At 1,400 feet, the Jetstream 32 began to drop fast. Hillis and Sailor reacted immediately. It was too late. The plane smashed into the woods, and 15 of the 20 people aboard died, including Hillis and Sailor. Investigators pawing through the rubble came to a surprising conclusion: Neither of the plane’s engines had failed at all. Most likely, the light was faulty.

U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 1995, p. 29