This week, word came of former Senator Ted Stevens’ death in an airplane accident in Alaska. He perished with the pilot and four others when the aircraft they were in collided with the side of a mountain. Four others survived. As always, a high profile death highlights the dangers of flying.
After eating lunch at a lodge near Dillingham, the group boarded the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter for a flight to a nearby fish camp. The flight took off shortly after 3 pm local time. It was not until someone at the lodge called the fish camp to inquire of their return three hours later that the Otter was determined missing.
The authorities are looking at the weather conditions as a contributing factor in the crash. Officials near Dillingham said the weather included light rain, clouds, and gusty winds. As always, it will be some length of time before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) releases official word on the cause of the crash.
Almost every professional pilot knows mountains, poor weather, and limited visibility can be dangerous for airplanes. Mixing those conditions can be a lethal cocktail for pilots who are either over confident or inexperienced. Sometimes, even a very experienced and cautious pilot may fall victim to situations beyond their control.
Occasionally, aircraft accidents do happen. Still, in terms of overall numbers, more people die on the highways than in aircraft accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37,261 fatalities took place in 2008. During the same period, we had 474 fatalities in general aviation. Including scheduled air carrier operations, that number only increased to a total of 543.
Depending on your background, you are safer and more comfortable flying than driving, or vice versa. For me, the only way to go is in the air. I believe if more Americans knew how enjoyable flying is over driving, the skies would resemble Interstate 5 through the middle of Los Angeles during rush hour.
People have told me driving was safer than flying because you “could pull over to the side of the road” if there was a problem. The truth of the matter is this: you would do the same in an airplane–only it is a little more challenging and getting to the “side of the road” requires a bit more skill.
Like anything in life, acquiring the skill to artfully land an airplane without engine power only takes a little dedication, study, and practice. And once you have mastered the technique, it is one of those skills you will have for life.
I will admit that when I was a young and inexperienced pilot, engine failures did frighten me–a little. Well, a lot. Then I became educated and experienced. Now I find there are other things more frightful than an engine failure-such as flying through an area of mountains at night, or in bad weather.
When you cannot see the mountain for whatever reason, sometimes they are difficult to avoid hitting.
© 2010 J. Clark