Plane crashes claim 17 people this summer

Posted: Monday, August 16, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Since June, 17 people have died in airplane accidents in Alaska.

Still, the Anchorage Daily News reports, that toll isn't unusual for Alaska summers. And pilots say there's a stronger emphasis on safety in a state where bad weather, remote airports and difficult terrain are common.

Last week's crash that killed former Sen. Ted Stevens and four others focused attention on flying in Alaska. The National Transportation Safety Board says more than 20 people died in the summers of 2003, 2004 and 2007. But it says fatalities have dropped from an average of 80 a year in the 1970s to about 23 a year over the past decade.

Pilots say much has changed over the years, with more emphasis on professionalism and safety. Still, Alaska Airmen's Association President Adam White said an event like the Aug. 9 crash should make pilots think how they can do even more.

"We're all replaying events in our past that could have potentially turned out bad," White said.

"Sometimes it takes these kinds of events for people to stop and think, maybe I shouldn't be doing things the way that I have been," he said. "Maybe I ought not to load the airplane quite as heavy. Maybe I should wait a few more hours even though I think I can make it now because the forecast says it's going to improve."

Four days after the crash north of Dillingham came reports of yet another crash. Rescuers found two people dead Friday in the wreckage of a Piper PA-18 near McGrath.

Aviation experts say a combination of new navigation systems, better runways and a growing professionalism have significantly reduced accidents since the barnstorming days of bush pilots and pipeline construction.

"It was a macho, bravado occupation to be in and pilots used to do risky things - and pilots that did that were looked upon as great pilots and heroes," said Richard Harding, who began by flying for Pen Air out of King Salmon and later became president of a federally funded nonprofit that offers pilot training and safety audits.

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