August 12, 2009

Plane Crashes in the News

2009 2008 2007
Hudson Landing 1/15/09 266
AirFrance Crash 6/4/09 193
Buffalo Crash 2/12/09 168
Brazil Crash 7/17/07 41
Montana Crash 3/2/09 35
SanDiego Crash 12/8/08 31
Yemen Crash 6/30/09 30
Madrid Crash 8/20/08 29
Amsterdam Crash 2/25/09 28
Turbulent Flight 8/3/09 26

70% – Percentage of top-10 air disaster stories that occurred in 2009

On August 3, Continental Flight 128, traveling from Rio de Janeiro to Houston, experienced severe turbulence. The plane reportedly shook violently and dropped, sending passengers into the aisles and crashing into overhead luggage bins. Fourteen people were hospitalized and the event generated 26 stories, filling 1.1% of the newshole from August 3-9, 2009. The story received more attention that week than events occurring inside Iraq.

It appears that 2009 hasn’t been a particularly good year for air safety. According to the Flight International publication, air fatalities in the first half of the year exceeded the average tally over the past decade, and there have been several accidents since the end of June. That would be in keeping with a clear pattern of increased coverage. Indeed, seven of the ten most-covered plane accidents since PEJ began its News Coverage Index back in January 2007 have occurred in 2009.  

The year’s No. 1 air story actually involved no casualties. The January 15 U.S. Airways flight miraculously piloted to a safe landing in the Hudson River by Chesley Sullenberger has generated 266 stories to date. The second-biggest air saga (193 stories) was the June 4 crash of Air France Flight 447, which plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 people on board. The commuter that crashed near Buffalo on February 12 and killed 50 people was third, at 168 stories.

Other 2009 air disasters that generated significant attention include the single-engine plane crash in Butte, Montana on March 2 that left 14 dead (35 stories); the Yemeni plane that crashed into the Indian Ocean on June 30 and killed 153 people (30 stories); and the Turkish Airlines flight that crashed near the Amsterdam airport on February 25, resulting in nine deaths (28 stories). The August 8 crash between a helicopter and a small plane over the Hudson River that took 9 lives occurred too late to be accurately represented in our sample for this report.

Two of the 10 most-covered plane crashes in the past several years happened in 2008. Five died when a Marine jet crashed into a San Diego home on December 8 (31 stories). And the Spanair flight that crashed after takeoff in Madrid took 154 lives on August 20 (29 stories). In 2007, a flight that crashed on landing in São Paulo, Brazil left 199 dead on July 17 and generated 41 stories.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ