Last week’s Cessna 310 crash in Palo Alto follows a rare but unfortunately high visibility path. The aircraft went down shortly after takeoff in heavy fog. At this point no one has any idea what happened, yet there are already concerns about what an airport was doing in the middle of a housing development.
The airport likely preceded residential development by a considerable margin but to the public and politicians that is often of small concern. As usual, when dealing with low probability, high consequence events facts and emotion often get mashed in together.
In the vast majority of cases, the occupants of the aircraft fare far worse than the people on the ground, but that doesn’t change the facts that every so often non-participants suffer in accidents. This is why there are runway safety zones and, hopefully, local zoning ordinances that avoid putting residential and other high value targets in areas where it is unlikely, but not unforeseen either, that an aircraft might drop in. Disclaimer: At this writing I don’t have enough detail to know exactly where the Cessna hit relative to the runway so there may be mitigating circumstances.
Here are some facts over the past several years relative to off airport injuries and fatalities:
In the last ten years for which we have complete data (1999-2008), there were a total of 25 GA accidents that killed or seriously injured off-airport bystanders, an average of about one every six months. A total of 21 people were killed and 43 more were seriously hurt. 2008 was the worst year, with five accidents that caused eight deaths and five serious injuries; 2001 had four, killing one and seriously injuring nine. No other year in the period had more than three.
ASF maintains this information and provides it to media, AOPA Airports division and government officials provide more light than heat for the discussion.
As pilots, we should be well armed with factual data on these incidents and get involved in helping local official make the right choices regarding development or re-location for the right reasons.
I am much happier when flying into airports in more sparsely populated areas than where buildings crowd up to the airport fence. It improves the odds, small as they may be, that there will be an unhappy outcome.