August 10, 2010

RIP Senator Ted Stevens

The Anchorage Daily News snidely referred to Ted Stevens as Senator for Life and if not for a corruption charge in 2008 that might have come true. Prosecutorial misconduct resulted in an acquittal but it also cost Stevens his seat in the US Senate. It was a sad ending for a man that had spent his entire life in the service of the people of Alaska.

Today Stevens and a group of friends returning from a fishing trip in south west Alaska crashed into a mountainside during poor weather conditions.

Fly around the backcountry of Alaska long enough and eventually you will be involved in an accident but Stevens was no stranger to the dangers of aviation. He was a decorated pilot in WW II and he survived a crash at Anchorage (now Ted Stevens) International Airport that took the life of his first wife in 1978.

A few reactions from the next generation of Alaska public servants.
"Last night, Alaska lost a hero and I lost a dear friend. The thought of losing Ted Stevens, a man who was known to business and community leaders, Native chiefs and everyday Alaskans as 'Uncle Ted,' is too difficult to fathom. His entire life was dedicated to public service, from his days as a pilot in World War II to his four decades of service in the United States Senate." — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
 "Alaska has lost one of its greatest statesmen and a true pioneer of our state with the passing of Sen. Ted Sevens. Over his four decades of public service in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Stevens was a forceful advocate for Alaska who helped transform our state in the challenging years after Statehood." — Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.
"In our land of towering mountains and larger than life characters, none were larger than the man who in 2000 was voted 'Alaskan of the Century.' This decorated World War II pilot was a warrior and a true champion of Alaska." — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Our prayers and condolences to those involved in todays accident.

Being a pilot in Alaska ranks up there with lumberjack and crab fisherman in fatality rates. The following is from the National Institute of Occupational Health.
Alaska is uniquely dependent upon air transportation. Commuter and air taxi operators serve as the main link to much of Alaska, transporting people, cargo, and mail to more than 250 villages located off of the road system. This critical mode of transportation can be hazardous.

A disproportionate number of commuter and air taxi crashes occur in Alaska (Table 1). During 1990-2008 there were 1,566 commuter and air taxi crashes in the United States. Commuter and air taxi crashes in Alaska accounted for more than one-third of all commuter and air taxi crashes in the U.S., and approximately 20% of the fatal crashes and deaths.

Working as a pilot in Alaska continues to be a risky occupation. During 1990-2008, aviation crashes in Alaska caused 147 occupational pilot deaths (does not include military), an average of 8 pilot fatalities per year. These 147 fatalities over 19 years from a commercial pilot workforce of approximately 2,600 result in an annual pilot fatality rate of 298 per 100,000 pilots.

In recent years the pilot occupational fatality rate in Alaska has decreased to less than twice the rate for all U.S. pilots during 2003-2008. During this time there were 23 occupational pilot deaths (does not include military), resulting in an annual pilot fatality rate of 148 per 100,000 pilots. While this is an improvement, it is still approximately 41 times the mortality rate for all U.S. workers during the same time period.

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