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What is it about airplane crashes??

(MT. PROSPECT) Let me start by saying I'm an aviation geek.  All things airplane intrigue me. However, as I cover day two of the crash of a cargo jet on final approach to Palwaukee Airport I'm fascinated by the fascination we (the media AND the public - admit it!) have with airplane crashes.

The two men piloting this Lear 35 lost their lives.  As I type this their bodies have still not been pulled from the chilled waters of the Des Plaines River just a few hundred yards from me.  As sad as that loss is one harsh reality remains: If two people had been killed in a car crash on nearby River Road it likely would not make the news let alone lead almost every news broadcast for two days.

"Flying still enamors people and so people still find an aircraft crash very spectacular," said Rob Mark, a corporate pilot and editor of jetwhine.com.  We were talking near some metal bleachers set-up just outside the fence line at the airport now known as Chicago Executive. It was the final destination of the fatal flight. Had it not been 8 degrees outside there might have been a father and daughter sitting on those bleachers listening to the piped-in sound of air traffic controllers and watching planes land and take-off. I once took a girlfriend to watch airplanes land at O'Hare.  That relationship only lasted a short time.  But I digress. 

Many years ago upon returning to O'Hare after a trip I remember a United Airlines captain welcoming passengers to Chicago via the plane's public address system. "The safest part of your journey is now over," the cool and confident sounding aviator said, "please drive safely. That's the dangerous part."

Statistics show more than 40,000 people die every year in car crashes, an average of 114 deaths each day.   FAA stats for 2008 reveal 553 people died that year in airplane crashes.  Add eleven more deaths if you include those killed on the ground.

The PBS program Nova reported:  "The annual risk of being killed in a plane crash for the average American is about 1 in 11 million. Compare that, for example, to the annual risk of being killed in a motor vehicle crash for the average American, which is about 1 in 5,000."

Perhaps pilot Rob Mark sums up our fascination with flying fatalities best: "If something falls out of the sky on top of your house, I mean that's a whole other issue."  We'll see you live at 4:30 and 6pm.  The lead story, of course. 


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