Enroute to their first flying lesson, Larre and his friend witnessed a small plane crashing across the road in front of them.
Flying is as common in Alaska as driving is in the Lower 48. In many parts of the state, it is the main mode of transportation. Long distances over remote, rugged terrain make for increased risk of crashes, injury and death.
Alaska has a storied history of aviation heroes and crashes. Carl Ben Eielson (Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks) delivered mail, landed on drift ice and was the first to cross the Arctic Ocean to Europe. He and mechanic Earl Borland died in a Siberian air crash, evacuating a cargo vessel trapped in ice. Russell Merrill (Merrill Field in Anchorage) was the first to fly across Gulf of Alaska and the Alaska Range. His plane went down in Cook Inlet in 1929.
In 1972, a plane carrying Alaska Congressman Nick Begich, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs and two more men disappeared on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau. Former US Senator Ted Stevens died in a 2010 plane crash. He’d been a big promoter of aviation and was instrumental in federal funding for improved safety technology.
In the 1990s there was a plane crash on average every other day in Alaska. Increased use of technology has improved the information available to pilots, decreasing some of the risk. Nevertheless, pilots must still be prepared to deal with quickly changing weather conditions and long distances between support services.
The book below by Ron Stapleton and Alaska Aviation Museum tells about many of the pioneers of Alaska bush flight.