Alaska’s Deadly Skies Mapped


Alaska’s rural communities depend on a dedicated fleet of bush planes and pilots to move supplies and people across thousands of miles of roadless territory. Anyone who flies, drives, or boats know that there is risk inherent in getting around. No less than 321 people have died over the past 15 years in Alaska aviation crashes, according to a database maintained by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Click on each crash point for more information.

This map is better zooming and examining individual accidents. (Please don’t mind the web mercator projection…)

CartoDB’s quick and dirty heat map shows the obvious: Alaska’s urban core of Anchorage and the railbelt north towards the Mat-Su Valley is where many of the crashes occur. But all of bush Alaska relies on air transportation and freight for some purpose.

You also see a lot of activity in the southwest portion of the state, where the state’s third busiest airport, Bethel, serves as a hub for nearly 60 villages and in Southeast Alaska where the weather is (especially?) notoriously bad.


Flying into Tuluksak in November, 2014.

In 2015 alone, there have been 10 crashes that killed 22 people. To be honest, I had to stop and restart this project several times this fall when additional crashes changed the data set. A large majority of the crashes are limited to one or two deaths, but there are several with more than five fatalities.

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2015’s 10 crashes are not out of the ordinary: 10 of the past 15 years have seen 10 or more fatal crashes. On average, just under 22 people die annually in Alaskan aviation incidents. 2009 and 2014 each had just four fatal crashes, claiming seven and five lives respectively.

2013 was the most deadly year in recent memory, when 14 fatal crashes killed 35 people and seriously injured 12. One accident can  very quickly add up; 10 of the deaths came in a Rediske Air flight in Soldotna that is blamed on improper cargo storage.

I remember reporting for KYUK that fall on a Era Cessna 208 carrying six that went down near St. Mary’s in terrible weather Thanksgiving weekend. Four were killed that evening. Icing conditions may have played a role in that crash, but the NTSB has not come out with a final report.

Four died when a Cessna 208 crashed near St. Mary's. Photo courtesy of Alaska DPS.

Four died when a Cessna 208 crashed near St. Mary’s. Photo courtesy of Alaska DPS.


Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 10.37.34 PMBut it’s not during Alaska’s cold, wet, and dark winters that tragedies claim the lives of pilots and passengers. The short three months of summer account for a disproportionate amount of crashes over the past 15 years. 55% of the fatal crashes in this period happened during June, July, and August. It’s a period of intense activity: the salmon are running, there’s no shortage of daylight. People naturally get around more this time of year and spend more time in the air.

On August 9th, 2010, a plane carrying former Senator Ted Stevens and eight others aboard a went down in the  Muklung Hills northeast of Dillingham. Even with a snow-free landscape, it still took hours for a rescue team to reach the hillside. Half of the plane’s occupants perished.


Former Senator Ted Stevens and four others died in while on a Bristol Bay fishing trip. Photo from Alaska DPS.

Former Senator Ted Stevens and four others died in while on a Bristol Bay fishing trip. Photo from Alaska DPS.

Winter is statistically a different story. February has only seen three fatal crashes in 15 years. July shows 29 crashes in the same period, killing 83 and seriously injuring six. August alone has seen more fatal crashes than the cold six-month stretch of November through April.

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Data for this visualization begin in 2001, when the NTSB began consistently publishing latitude and longitude data for crashes. You can further explore the data in this spreadsheet derived from a download of NTSB data.


This analysis looks at only crashes from 2001 to 2015 in the NTSB database that include a fatality; there are additional accidents and incidents in which the pilot and passengers survive or are uninjured. The NTSB is inconsistent in reporting several aspects of the dataset, such as make and model, purpose of flight, and FAR description. A few notes are included where latitude and longitude data had to be tweaked.

Data may be incomplete. Tools included CartoDB, Excel, Google Spreadsheets, and


Alaska’s Deadly Skies Mapped


My Complicated Relationship With Social Media Contests


In the sort-of early twitter days, I thought I had a “killer instinct” on twitter contests. In 2009, I won little trivia contests from Ace Hardware ($15 gift certificate) and the Gear Junkie blog (a drybag). My strategy? Google things really quickly and be there to type it in exactly when the the contest begins. It was sort of like cheating at a pub quiz night and using your phone, except I don’t think there were real rules on late-2009 twitter contests.

I was young, but old enough to know that that fast Googling and twitter might get me somewhere in life. It soon did.

I somehow managed to get a job though a social media-type competition soon after I was out school in 2009. Fast Horse, a Minneapolis based ad/marketing/web/content/social/etc. agency sponsored a contest for their next intern. It didn’t play out on social media, but it was rooted in it.

Two of the contest prompts involved convincing the agency leaders that Carrot Top is a comedic genius. I attempted to do this by creating a Kennedy Center Honors tribute video for Carrot Top.

Another key part of my application was a brief written piece about marketing for old people. This still exists on the internet archive I learned. I’ll give you just this gem from my 22-year-old self.

“It’s up to you to infer that a golfer ISN’T using the bathroom four times an hour or that a woman can practice Tai Chi WITHOUT the stigma of Restless Leg Syndrome.”

It finished with a convincing statement.

And if lizards like one thing, it’s basking in the warm glow of a mail-order Amish fireplace.

Fast Horse later hired a couple of interns based on the number of social media likes the candidate could generate during a brief campaign. I’m sure I would get my butt kicked in that. I had a great, brief run at Fast Horse and learned a ton. But I was soon off to Alaska, where I figured the dramatic scenery would give me a slight edge in the up-and-coming social media photo contests. Armed with a prosumer DSLR, I went to work.

Two of my photos made it onto Duluth Pack catalog covers. But that wasn’t the point. I wasn’t in it for the glory. I was in it for the $75 gift card that I tragically never got.

It’s not a big deal in the real world, but in my twitter contest world, I felt like it was over.

Why bother?

Things changed. I got busy and stayed away from social media contests. All of them. For five years.

Until now.

I learned about a contest this fall called #MeetTheArctic that was calling for three-minute short films to showcase the Arctic in a way that is more than polar bears and Santa Claus. This was an area that I had a little bit of experience in.

I convinced my former boss (and current friend) Laureli Ivanoff to work with me on a short piece.

We were asked to to show a good mix of economic development, climate change, and people. We tried to do that in a few short minutes. It shows Unalakleet, Shishmaref, Bethel, Talkeetna, Nome, Teller, Tuluksak, Anchorage, and the Seward Highway area, plus the voices of Unalakleet’s Katiya Simonsson and Thomas Simonsson.

It’s a snapshot, a very short one of the western Alaskan arctic. And now it comes full circle and I humbly ask you to help me as I come out of social media contest retirement.

You can vote for our #meetthearctic entry or others by clicking the thumbs up “like” button on the Youtube page and keep our entry alive until the next round.

The other 10 entries are a mix of very cool and creative ideas.


My Complicated Relationship With Social Media Contests