Alaska plane crash: How safe are small aircraft?

Nine people were killed in Alaska Thursday when a sightseeing plane crashed into a cliff. Aviation safety has improved greatly in recent decades but small planes still face considerable risk.

Taylor Balkom/Ketchikan Daily News/AP
The Holland America Line cruise ship Westerdam sits in dock in Ketchikan, Alaska, on Thursday. Officials say eight passengers on an excursion off the ship and a pilot were in a plane that was found crashed against the granite rock face of a cliff about 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan, Alaska. All nine people aboard died in the crash, authorities said.

Nine people traveling on an excursion plane from a Holland American Line cruise ship died on Thursday after their plane crashed in Alaska, police and the aircraft company confirmed. The plane went down during a tour of the Misty Fjords region of southern Alaska. The cause of the crash has not yet been confirmed, but the National Weather Service said that conditions at the nearby Ketchikan International Airport were overcast and rainy at the time.

"There is nothing I can say that can alleviate the pain and overwhelming sense of loss," Marcus Sessoms, president of Promech Air, the flight’s operator, said in a statement following the crash.

Eight passengers and a pilot were on board the plane.

The 8 passengers had been traveling on a cruise ship that departed from Seattle on Saturday for a seven-day round trip, the cruise line confirmed in a statement. The Promech Air excursion flight was sold through Holland America Line, a unit of Carnival Corp.  Promech’s sightseeing flights around the Misty Fjords National Monument offer views of "towering granite cliffs, 1,000-foot waterfalls, lush and remote valleys and serene crystalline lakes," its website says.

Ketchikan, the area where the crash took place, is a popular summertime cruise destination about 230 miles south of Alaska’s state capital Juneau.

In July 2013, four people on a similar Promech-owned plane were injured after the aircraft suffered engine failure and crashed into trees on a nearby Island, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

An October 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office found that the highest incidence of fatal accidents in general aviation occur on small, single-engine piston airplanes after pilots lose control of the aircrafts. Bad weather and poor pilot training are the most common contributing factors during a crash.

In February 2015, a small, single passenger plane crashed in Colorado when the pilot lost control of the aircraft after allegedly taking a selfie with his smart-phone.

Commercial flights, however, are safer than ever, the Monitor reported in April.

In 2014, the International Air Transport Association reported that there were 12 fatal accidents out of 38 million flights for all aircraft types that year.

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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