Air Taxi Crash Highlights Alaska's Unique Dangers

NTSB's online aviation database shows 143 fatal aviation accidents in the state since the beginning of 2000. Board Member Earl F. Weener, investigating the latest crash, highlighted the challenges in a blog post.

Aviation is very important to Alaskans and also challenging because of the state's size, the remoteness and isolation of communities, and its terrain, NTSB Board Member Earl F. Weener points out in a July 15 post to the agency’s Safety Compass blog. Weener's latest trip to Alaska involved an air taxi accident that killed 10 people July 7 at Soldotna Airport – the pilot and nine passengers died when the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crashed. He was NTSB's spokesman at the scene.

"Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the ten people who perished in this crash. The NTSB's role, as it is in the hundreds of investigations we conduct each year, is to find out what happened and why so we can make safety recommendations that, if implemented, will help prevent similar accidents in the future," Weener, a licensed pilot, wrote. "This wasn't my first trip to Alaska, but each time I visit I am reminded of the vital importance of aviation to our nation's largest state. Alaska is larger than Texas, California and Montana combined; its width greater than the distance between New York and Los Angeles. Here's what is even more telling: More than 80 percent of Alaska's communities, including the state capital, are not connected to highways or road systems. The state's sheer size and the lack of surface transportation heighten aviation's importance. In fact, aviation, especially general aviation, is to Alaska what buses and vans are to many other states. For example, for an away basketball game, the varsity team climbs aboard a charter airplane. Many people routinely fly to do what their counterparts in the lower 48 consider to be everyday shopping.

"Yet, while flying is more every day in Alaska, the challenges are much greater. There is treacherous terrain, including 39 mountain ranges with high peaks, deep gorges and more than 100,000 glaciers. Then, add weather to the mix. At any time, snow, ice, rain, wind and fog can appear in an instant," he added. "The importance of aviation to Alaska adds more importance to our investigation. It's crucial to understand what happened so we can help improve aviation safety for a state which relies so heavily on all manner and make of aircraft."

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