Two Planes Collide In Midair In Alaska Killing 7, Including State Representative

Grant Aviation planes are seen in the town of Bethel on the Yukon Delta, Alaska on April 19, 2019.
Grant Aviation planes are seen in the town of Bethel on the Yukon Delta, Alaska on April 19, 2019.
Image: MARK RALSTON/AFP (Getty Images)

Seven people, including an Alaska state House of Representatives member, were killed Friday morning after two small planes collided near the city of Soldotna on Alaska’s southern coast.

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The New York Times has more on the tragic story:

Officials said the collision, between a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver and a Piper-PA12, happened at 8:30 a.m. local time, two miles northeast of Soldotna Airport, which is about 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The lawmaker who was killed, Gary Knopp, was a Republican member of the state House of Representatives, the speaker of the House, Bryce Edgmon, said in a news release.

Mr. Knopp was piloting the Piper and was the sole occupant, Clint Johnson, chief of the Alaska regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said. Six people were aboard the other plane, which was designed with pontoons to make water landings, he said.

Mr. Johnson said weather conditions were very good, with 10-mile visibility.

Investigators on the scene told the Times that the cause of the crash is currently unknown, but the cause will likely not be surprising to Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors. Small plane collisions have been on the rise in recent years, according to an earlier New York Times article. While deaths on commercial flights have plunged, deaths on small plane crashes rose 347 in 2017 to 393 in 2018, the last year data is available from the National Transportation Safety Board. And the rate of crashes is likely on the rise for very clear reasons as smaller planes require much less stringent training, licensing benchmarks, and failsafe mechanisms. The Times again:

Private planes typically do not have extra engines, backup navigation systems or co-pilots. Many have one engine. They are not required to supply designated flight paths for those on the ground to follow. Rules and regulations pertaining to smaller, private planes tend to be less stringent than those affecting commercial planes, because they do not put the same number of lives at risk.

Planes with ten or more passengers are held to a higher standard those with fewer than ten.

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These two planes also crashed into each other two miles from Soldotna Airport. Almost 50 percent of midair collisions occurred in the traffic pattern or on approach to or departure from an airport and eighty percent of midair collisions happen during normal flight activities within 10 miles of an airport, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

We of course don’t know the cause, and it will likely be a lengthy investigation. But it seems likely that this crash could likely be blamed on a mix of a small but busy airport being used by under-regulated pilots. It’s an unfortunate and tragic consequence of an oversight that should have been corrected long ago.

Managing Editor of Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

will-alib
Turbineguy: Nom de Zoom

So much misinformation to unpack here. Pulling out my soapbox...

And the rate of crashes is likely on the rise for very clear reasons as smaller planes require much less stringent training, licensing benchmarks, and failsafe mechanisms

These same conditions have existed since day one, yet accidents had been trending down as recently as 2017. There was an uptick in 2018 when an additional 50 fatalities occurred raising the year’s total to 381.

Your typical single-engine Cessna bugsmasher doesn’t require the training that a turboprop or jet does, because it’s a very simple aircraft. This also applies to licensing to fly one. Far as ‘failsafe mechansims’ the most popular piston single in production (Cirrus SR20/22) right now has a built in parachute. New avionics technology has increased the safety margin for general aviation. As of Jan 1st this year, all aircraft are required to have an ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) transmitter on their aircraft, which enhances a pilot’s traffic awareness and safety. It does seem it’s not a requirement for most of Alaska’s airspace which is probably a contributing factor to the accident.

They are not required to supply designated flight paths for those on the ground to follow

For VFR flight this is correct, but IFR flights follow a designated route provided by ATC.

But it seems likely that this crash could likely be blamed on a mix of a small but busy airport being used by under-regulated pilots.

The Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR Part 61 and Part 91) covering general aviation are several hundred pages. Does that seem under-regulated? That NY Times article is written by somebody who clearly knows little about aviation. The alarming frequency she speaks of makes it sound as if airplanes are falling out of the sky like leaves. In 2018 there were 381 fatalities in general aviation; by contrast over 36,000 died in automobiles. Are the highways under-regulated?

Flying is inherently dangerous, but pilots are taught to minimize and manage the risk; some just do it better than others.