Alaska is home to just 1% of the U.S. population, but it claims more than 40% of the nation’s small plane crashes. Six people were killed when a plane went down in August 2021, renewing concerns about aviation safety in the state.
The deadly crash
On Aug. 5, 2021, a pilot and five tourists died when a small aircraft crashed near Ketchikan at around 11:20 a.m. The tourists, who ranged in age from 20 to 77, had been passengers on a Holland America Line cruise ship and were returning from a sightseeing excursion at Misty Fjords National Monument.
The pilot, age 64, worked for Southeast Aviation LLC, which operates a fleet of six passenger float planes. He had also been at the controls when a Southeast Aviation float plane crashed during takeoff near Prince of Wales Island in July 2021, but he walked away from that accident unscathed.
Alaska leads the nation in small plane crashes
In the early 2000s, around 26% of the nation’s small aircraft fatalities occurred in Alaska, but that number had ballooned to 42% by 2016, according to media investigations. In 2020, 15 people were killed in small plane crashes in the state, and at least 14 people died in 2021.
Because Alaska depends on small planes to access its isolated communities, some people think aviation crashes are inevitable. However, flight safety experts believe most of them could be prevented if more of the state’s airports, aviation companies and pilots used advanced technology, including real-time weather reports and collision avoidance systems.
A preliminary report suggested Federal Aviation Administration investigators are considering factors like weather conditions and pilot error as possible causes for the August 2021 crash. The agency’s final report could play an important role in court proceedings if the victim’s families pursue wrongful death litigation.