Are Floatplanes Safe?

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June 30, 2015

In the wake of last week's crash outside of Ketchikan, Alaska, many are wondering how safe it is to fly in a floatplane, especially in the remote wilderness of Alaska.

Float PlaneFor the people of Alaska, the sight of floatplanes is more than an everyday occurrence-the planes are the lifeblood of transportation. They deliver mail and supplies, taxi locals to and from the state's remote areas, and offer sightseeing trips for tourists.

But while the planes are vital for Alaskan transport, they do crash...quite a bit. According to the most recent data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), there have been 697 floatplane accidents across Alaska over the last 30 years. Those crashes killed 258 people and left countless others with injuries. These startling statistics are owed in a lot of ways to the weather, specifically how unpredictable it can be.

"Alaska's very challenging to fly in," says Valerie Jokela, a former pilot who now works with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). "There are mostly mountain ranges that generate their own weather, and mountain passes, and glaciers-and glaciers make their own weather, too."

According to the Los Angeles Times, floatplane crashes claimed 24 lives in 1982 alone. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens died in a floatplane crash in 2010. The Senator was once quoted as saying plane crashes in his home state were an "occupational hazard of Alaska politics," because flying is often the only way to travel to constituents. Cheryll Heinze, a former state legislator, died two years after Stevens in a crash that left her trapped in a submerged aircraft.

Some in Alaska feel that floatplane flying is even more dangerous than the blizzard-defying bush flying that residents in the northern part of the state see daily. Which is more dangerous isn't really the point as both present risks that have resulted in dreadful aviation safety statistics for the state.

According to an Associated Press analysis of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's Air Safety Foundation data, Alaska had a rate of 13.59 accidents per 100,000 flight hours between 2004 and 2008, which was more than double the comparative national rate.

While authorities are still uncertain what caused last week's crash, one thing is for certain: flying floatplanes in Alaska is a dangerous business. If you have been a victim of a floatplane accident, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced aviation attorney at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman. Our firm has a strong history of delivering favorable results for the victims of floatplane accidents. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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