ANCHORAGE, Alaska — August is typically the worst month of the year for plane crashes in Alaska, and this year has been no exception. In the past few weeks, there have been four plane crashes that took the lives of more than a dozen people.
Pilots face many challenges when flying in Alaska, but there is a program that teaches them how to react during the worst possible scenarios.
Fatal plane crashes in Alaska have been all too familiar in recent weeks.
Alaska lost four airmen on July 28, when a C-17 military cargo plane crashed on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, days before the Arctic Thunder air show.
Just a few days later, three people died in Denali National Park when a C-123 cargo plane crashed on the southern slope of Mount Healy.
Then on Aug. 9, a float plane carrying nine went down near Dillingham, taking the lives of former Sen. Ted Stevens and four others.
Most recently, two people lost their lives when their plane crashed near McGrath on Aug. 12.
“There have been a lot more accidents in the past six to eight weeks than what we would normally see,” said Dennis Ward, executive director of the Medallion Foundation.
Investigators are still trying to determine what caused these crashes, but there are speculations.
“The weather challenges, coupled with the fact we have no infrastructure, ground infrastructure, so much of the flying is done with visual flight rules,” said the University of Alaska Anchorage’s aviation technology director, Rocky Capozzi.
Capozzi says pilots in the Last Frontier face challenging terrain, and 95 percent of plane crashes have some element of human factor. That's why organizations like the Medallion Foundation are offering free flight-simulator time for pilots like Justin Morrison.
“It just gets you into ahead of the aircraft and not just reacting, put you in situations that you don’t want to be in out in the real world,” Morrison said.
“You can have a departure point and destination 100 miles apart, but no weather in between, so it's very difficult for the pilots to anticipate what the weather is going to be en route,” Ward said.
Ward says programs like these allow pilots to practice the quick responses that are crucial in accident scenarios.
“We really work hard on decision-making and recognizing changing weather, weather that's poorly coming down, becoming worse,” Ward said.
It’s one effort of many between the industry and government to keep pilots safe -- beginning on the ground.
The Medallion Foundation says it's currently working with the Alaska region of the FAA on two new projects to improve aviation safety. One is specifically for tour operators, and another is for all commercial operators in the state.
Contact Christine Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org