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Aviation

Rate of Alaska fatal plane crashes tops national average

  • Author: Associated Press
  • Updated: November 4
  • Published November 4

JUNEAU — The rate of fatal airplane crashes in Alaska is higher than the national average, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB has preliminary reports for 10 fatal plane wrecks in Alaska for the 2019 calendar year. The figure does not include an Oct. 17 crash in Unalaska, which does not yet have a federal report, The Juneau Empire reported Sunday.

Alaska had nine fatal plane accidents last year, eight in 2017, 12 in 2016, and 11 in 2015, the newspaper reported.

The NTSB website indicates 5.4% of the 221 fatal crashes in the U.S. in 2016 — the most recent year listed — occurred in Alaska, which has less than 1% of the national population.

Alaska's accident rate is higher than the rest of the country, said Tom George, Alaska Regional Manager for Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a national aviation advocacy organization.

A Coast Guard Station Ketchikan 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew searches for survivors from a downed de Havilland Beaver in George Inlet near Ketchikan, Alaska, Monday, May 13, 2019. The Beaver was involved in a midair collision. Both planes were carrying cruise passengers on flightseeing tours. (Photo courtesy Ryan Sinkey via U.S. Coast Guard)

Conditions that explain the statistics include a lack of ground-based radio receivers to help pilots keep track of other aircraft via automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, a technology that helps prevent midair collisions such as the one that occurred May 13 near Ketchikan, George said.

Other contributing conditions include treacherous weather, the enormous size of the state and more landings and takeoffs occurring in harbors or rugged terrain, George said.

"If I had to point to one thing, I would say the weather is the biggest contributing factor -- and that's true back as far as I can remember," Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Service President Jerry Kiffer said.

Weather was likely a factor in some of this year’s fatal events including the May 20 wreck of a de Havilland Beaver floatplane that claimed two lives in Metlakatla Harbor, the NTSB said.

“That Beaver was not the first one to go upside down in that water,” Kiffer said.

NOTE: This article has been corrected to say that Alaska has less than 1% of the US population, not 2%.

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