Crashes give Alaska aviators pause

Accidents have killed 17 people in Alaska since June, even as longtime pilots say it's never been safer to fly in the expansive, pilot-rich state. While the barrage of high-profile crashes -- including the death Monday of former Sen. Ted Stevens -- has stunned Alaskans and swung a spotlight on aviation safety, the death toll isn't unheard for Alaska's busy summers, even in recent history.

More than 20 people died in the summers of 2003, 2004 and 2007, according to National Transportation Safety Board records.

After a benchmark safety year in 2009, when fewer people died in aircraft accidents than in roughly half a century, the resurgence of crashes this summer has given pilots pause.

"We're all replaying events in our past that could have potentially turned out bad," Adam White, a pilot and president of the Alaska Airmen's Association, said after Monday's crash.

"Sometimes it takes these kinds of events for people to stop and think, maybe I shouldn't be doing things the way that I have been," he said. "Maybe I ought not to load the airplane quite as heavy. Maybe I should wait a few more hours even though I think I can make it now because the forecast says it's going to improve."

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