In Alaska there are approximately as many small airplanes as there are cars. Airplane accidents in Alaska are therefore, almost twice as prevalent as anywhere else in the nation. There are many parts of Alaska that are not accessible by car. The infrastructure is lacking in this area. People get on a plane to go to the doctor or go shopping as easily as someone hails a cab in New York City. The volatile and unpredictable weather makes flying a challenge as well as the rugged terrain in Alaska. The weather changes sometimes from neighborhood to neighborhood in a city. Many unnecessary risks are taken by Alaskan pilots. It is considered a part of the program here. The pilots take the weather changes in stride and sometimes to their detriment. This is a risk that needs to be understood by visitors as well. Since many visitors will board a small air taxi to visit the remote areas of Alaska.
The summer of 2010 saw many airplane accidents in Alaska. Not the least of which was a plane carrying former Senator Ted Stevens. In an article written by Alex Johnson of msnbc.com, Johnson states that, “Stevens, 86, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, was among nine people on board when the 1957 DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter, crashed into a brush and rock covered mountainside Monday afternoon about 17 miles north of the southwest Alaska fishing town of Dillingham, federal officials said.” Ted Stevens and his companions were flying to a remote fishing lodge in southwest Alaska when the plane slammed into a mountainside. Ironically, Stevens’ plane was not equipped with new technology to help navigate, that Stevens supported. The technology is called the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. It was designed to replace the current technology using GPS technology. Rescuers were surprised that there were any survivors. Rapidly changing weather prevented rescuers from reaching the crash site the day it was discovered. They had to return the next morning. There were four dead and five survivors. It is widely known that Stevens had already survived a 1978 plane crash that claimed the life of his wife.
Alaskan pilots have come under criticism for their cowboy antics and poor judgement. It is known that the owners of airline taxis in Alaska have forced pilots to fly against their better judgement. They have been ordered to fly overloaded planes into remote areas without proper landing facilities or lose their job. A mistake that has proven deadly more than once. Pilots are rumored to report Alaska as the most dangerous area to fly. However, flying in Alaska is absolutely necessary if you are going to make it from point A to point B. Most of Alaska is inaccessible by road, including the state capital of Juneau. This puts Alaskan politicians at a disadvantage. They must reach the villages in their constituency and yet getting there by ground is impossible. Time constraints, weather and terrain work against the politicians. Visitors also must be aware of these risks.
In early summer, June 2010, a plane crashed in downtown Anchorage just after take-off from Merrill field nearby. There were four survivors and one dead in this accident. The pilot was Preston Cavner and the single engine plane was owned by his company. His four year old son perished in the accident.
Another airplane crash in the summer of 2010 was the cargo plane that went down during a training mission at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. All four on board perished. The crash preceded an annual air show at Elmendorf AFB.
August saw yet another plane crash. Late in the month, a Piper went down nose diving into the Susitna River close to Mount Susitna also known as the Sleeping Lady. Two men on board, including the pilot, were killed.
The NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, has been very busy during the summer of 2010 in Alaska. The NTSB has stated that many air accidents in Alaska are due to rapidly changing weather when the pilot is flying by visual navigation only. These weather conditions are normally considered to be unsafe flying conditions. Safety specialists have named a common problem with Alaskan pilots, “bush syndrome”. This term refers to the pilots accepting the risks posed by the weather and terrain that is specific to Alaska. Ultimately, legislators who would like to see air safety statistics improve in Alaska, are at a loss. They cannot legislate good judgement or good weather.
Finally, taking a “taxi” in Alaska is to be considered carefully. It is the only way to get to many locations in Alaska, yet it has a dubious safety record. Flying in Alaska is complicated by the weather and terrain however, the Alaskan skies seemingly are host to inexperienced pilots, with a cavalier attitude to the rugged conditions. This also has been known to claim tourists as its victims. Visitors to the great state of Alaska need to be aware of the dangers of boarding a flight. Ultimately, mother nature rules in Alaska. If the weather changes and postpones or cancels a side trip you have planned, be thankful it was caught before you took off. The safety record can only improve if more care is paid to the always changing weather of Alaska.
Lars, Gleitsmann, alaskadispatch.com/blogs/bush-pilot/6028-an-alaska/pilot-speaks-out-against-the-epa-avgas-ban, The Alaska Dispatch
Potts, F. E. (Fred), www.avweb.com/news/safety/183068-1.html, Is Flying Alaska Dangerous
Mail Foreign Service, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1283638/Anchorage-Alaska-plane-crash-1-dead-4-hurt.html, The Moment Bystanders Battled Plane Crash Inferno in Desperate Attempt to Rescue Family Trapped inside
Lisa Demer and James Halpin, www.adn.com/2010/07/28/1385727/cargo-plane-reported-down-on-base.html, Four Confirmed Dead in Elmendorf Plane Crash
Kyle Hopkins, communty.adn.com/node/152936, The Village: A Rural Blog
Mark Hosenball, www.newsweek.com/blogs/declassified/2010/08/11/ntsb-warned-about-alaska-pilots-risky-ways-and-ted-stevens-argued.html, NTSB warned about Alaska Pilots’ Risky Ways-And Ted Stevens Argued