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Reality Check: New show about Alaska plane crashes is respectful, but also boring

We're in a bit of an Alaska reality TV drought right now. Outside of "Big Fix Alaska" and "Alaska Aircrash Investigations," there isn't much else happening. In fact, there is so little happening that a clearly fake story from Huffington Post Comedy about "The Real World" filming in Nome made TV news this week.

So after the extremely thorough public relations staff of the Smithsonian Channel sent me enough press releases, I finally watched an advance screening of "Alaska Aircrash Investigations."

"Alaska Aircrash Investigations" follows the National Transportation Safety Board as they investigate aviation accidents around the state of Alaska. I was initially skeptical, because it seems like the Smithsonian Channel was making entertainment out of plane crashes, which usually involve fatalities.

The first episode is about the Wings of Alaska crash outside of Juneau that killed a pilot this past July. Shockingly, "Alaska Aircrash Investigations" didn't seem exploitative, and took the time to get the story right without hyperbole or other reality TV tropes, though the same can't be said for their press releases.

The first episode begins with the NTSB receiving a call about a crash near Juneau. Then Chris Shaver, an NTSB employee, travels down to Juneau to start the investigation. He hitches a ride with the Coast Guard and Juneau Mountain Rescue Crews on their second trip to the wreckage (the first was when they rescued the survivors).

The Coast Guard and NTSB don't actually allow outside cameras to go with on the mission, so everything is seen from Shaver's helmet camera. We see him get dropped down in a basket from a camera attached to the helicopter to the site, about 1,000 feet up a mountain 18 miles from Juneau.

The way they dealt with the death was pretty good by reality TV standards. The show briefly cuts away from talking about Farrah Petersen, the pilot who died, to the head of the NTSB in Alaska. He talks about the crash that killed Sen. Ted Stevens and how it impacted him, since he knew Stevens personally. Then there's an interview with Petersen's sister to give background on her life as a pilot and her love of flying.

This episode of "Alaska Aircrash Investigations" never interviews the survivors of the crash directly, but mentions that they didn't want to be on camera. Shaver is shown meeting with the victim support services and hashing out who will communicate with the victim's family about what happened on the investigation.

The rest of the episode focuses on the NTSB's use of in-flight data to show how the flight path differed from normal and piece together the clues of the crash. Their meetings seem clinical and almost boring, since they are simply documenting what happened.

All in all, just like other shows that actually document events as they happened, there isn't much for Reality Check to poke fun at or report on. So if you are interested in the inner workings of the NTSB, check it out.

"Alaska Aircrash Investigations" premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 13, on the Smithsonian Channel. There will be six episodes, each an hour long. While we're in this drought, if anyone has a copy of "Big Hair Alaska," a long-gone show about Sarah Palin's hairdresser, please send it my way.

Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV. You can reach her at or on Twitter @ETFBacher.

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