Friday, July 12, 2013

Alaska Aviation Season One of the Deadliest: National Transportation Safety Board says it's never been busier

ANCHORAGE - It's been a rough aviation season so far for Alaska. In fact, it's been one of the deadliest. 

Summer time is the busiest time of the year for flying in Alaska. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) say they've never been busier.

"Unfortunately, we have had a very busy season," said Clint Johnson with the NTSB in Anchorage.

With a limited road system, flying is the only way Alaskans can get to many areas. Summer time is when we see the most plane accidents.

"It's no secret that obviously the Alaska NTSB has had a very busy spring coupled with the state trooper accident, the Dillingham accident, the Beech 1900 accident, [and] most recent the Rediske Air one and a host of others. But this is historically a busy time for us. There is no exception here," said Johnson.

Those accidents have added up to be one of the deadliest seasons for flying in Alaska. Twenty-five people have been killed this year compared to five people last year.

But when it comes to the total number of crashes, Alaska is actually down from last year with 52 crashes compared to 69. The number of fatal accidents however is up. Nine fatal accidents have occurred in Alaska this year and in 2012 there were five. That doesn't include the number of people killed, only the number of accidents.

Weather always seems to be part of the discussion.

"When you look at it, it's broken up into several different weather patterns. Weather might be really nice here in Anchorage and by the time you try to go through one of the passes like Lake Clark or Merrill Pass... the weather could substantially change halfway through the pass," said Colonel James Cockrell with the Alaska State Troopers Wildlife Division.

But the NTSB says weather isn't the cause of accidents. "To fly through weather is a decision that is made my the pilot or the crew at the time. So weather is not, from the NTSB stand point, is not a factor or cause," said Johnson.

As for weight being an issue, the NTSB says any plane has weight limitations but it still falls on the responsibility of the pilots to operate the plane within those limitations.

To fly in Alaska, pilots need to be on the top of their game.

"A lot of pilots let their airplanes sit. They aren't proficient and all of the sudden they want to go to their sheep camp that they haven't been to earlier this year or they haven't even practiced short field takeoffs and landings," said Cockrell.

Alaska may post different challenges but flying in Alaska is still considered a safe mode of transportation.