The statistics are sobering.

From July 19 to Aug. 22, 18 people were killed in six general aviation accidents in Utah, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's online database. Not included in those numbers was a midair collision over Rock Springs, Wyo., on Aug. 10 that killed six or a plane crash in Guatemala that killed 11 people, including three Utahns, during a humanitarian mission.

But even though there has been a recent rash of disasters, statistics show that overall, the number of plane crashes in Utah is about the same, if not down, compared to a year ago.

From Jan. 1 through Aug. 28, there were 31 plane crashes in Utah, according to NTSB. During that same period in 2007, there were 32 crashes. One of the big differences, however, was that there were nine deaths during that time period in 2007 compared to 20 this year.

In August alone this year, the NTSB reported three aviation accidents in Utah that resulted in the deaths of 15 people. Combined with the Wyoming accident, a local or regional aviation disaster seemed to top the news headlines daily.

• On Aug. 8, three people — two Blanding City Council members and a former council member — were killed in a crash in Monticello. The three were scouting elk in preparation for the hunting season.

• The next day, Aug. 9, two people were killed on the shore of Bear Lake near Garden City.

• On Aug. 10, six people were killed in the midair collision over Rock Springs.

• On Aug. 22, one of the worst general aviation accidents in recent memory happened in Utah. A Cedar City dermatologist on his way home after providing care to residents of Moab was killed in a crash and a fiery explosion, along with eight of his co-workers and a pilot, shortly after take off from the Canyonlands Field Airport.

Mike Fergus, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration's Northwest office in Seattle which covers Utah, said every accident is investigated for a cause.

"The FAA looks at a whole bunch of categories," he said, while noting the NTSB also provides lead investigators in all crashes.

But until those investigations are completed, Fergus couldn't say if there is a common denominator in all the accidents or if one particular problem contributed to each.

The planes that have been involved in fatal crashes in Utah this year included three Cessnas and a Beech King. A fatal accident in Price in July that killed three involved a Hughes helicopter. The pilots in all the incidents were experienced.

Some pilots, who didn't want their names used, have told the Deseret News they believe density altitude may be playing a key role in many of this year's crashes.

Density altitude is a calculation of the air density or pressure at a given location when factors such as temperature and humidity are included. The hotter the conditions, the higher the density altitude, meaning aircraft should strive to be lighter than usual in terms of cargo, passengers and fuel. But during cooler weather, they can afford to carry a little extra weight.

A preliminary report from the NTSB regarding July's helicopter crash in Price computed the density altitude at the time of the crash at 9,330 feet

Temperatures in Moab on Aug. 22 were in the high 90s to near 100 degrees. Though the NTSB would not comment or speculate on possible causes of the crash, investigators say one of the many areas they will look at is the temperature in Moab at the time of takeoff and the weight of the plane, including the number of passengers, equipment and fuel.

Still, 30 crashes through the first eight months of the year is a big increase from previous years.

During that same time period in 2006, Utah had 18 accidents resulting in seven deaths. In 2005, 16 crashes resulted in five people killed. In 2004, there were 24 accidents resulting in three deaths during the first eight months of the year.

In 2003, however, there were 34 crashes during the first eight months of the year, resulting in 18 deaths, according to the NTSB.

In fact, general aviation accidents were down across the United States this year through the end of July. There were 971 general aviation accidents across the country during the first seven months of 2007 resulting in 279 deaths, compared to 862 accidents this year resulting in 274 deaths.

In July alone, the NTSB investigated 214 general aviation accidents in the United States resulting in 51 deaths, compared to 125 during July of this year. Nationally, 48 people were killed in general aviation accidents in July in 2008, according to the NTSB.

Although any loss of life is tragic, Fergus said the crash numbers are small compared to the number of successful flights that happen every day across the nation.

In 2007, there was a little over one fatality per 100,000 flight hours, according to the NTSB.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com