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Fatal ground accidents up again in summer 2013

Oct. 5, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The number of airmen killed in ground accidents this summer is the highest since 2009, marking the second spike in a decade.

The rise is due in part to an increase in fatal car crashes, said Maj. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, commander of the Air Force Safety Center.

Twenty-one airmen died in the on- and off-duty accidents this summer, compared with 16 during the same period in 2012, according to the safety center. Among those who died in 2013, seven were killed in off-duty car crashes and one was killed in an on-duty crash.

“We lost six more airmen [in car crashes]this summer as compared to last year,” Neubauer said. “However, last year was an exceptionally good year, with only two fatal car accidents during the summer.”

The Air Force typically sees an increase in off-duty deaths between Memorial Day and Labor Day as airmen enjoy the warm weather by doing riskier activities. For that reason, the Air Force launches a safety campaign each summer to remind airmen to be safe, but the Air Force does not require airmen to take any additional safety classes.

Overall, accidental grounddeaths during the summer months have dropped since 2003, when 37 airmen were killed in the summer, according to the safety center. That number fell to 16 in 2010. Twenty-one airmen were killed in 2009.

Most off-duty fatalities are caused by human errors or poor decisions made by airmen, said Bill Parsons, Air Force chief of ground safety.

Investigations into 13 of the 21 deaths are ongoing; sofar, alcohol has been determined to be a factor in two of this summer’s accidents, officials said.

As in years past, most of the airmen who died during summer 2013 were killed in motorcycle crashes, which accounted for nine of the 21 deaths, Parsons said in an email. Of the remaining fatalities, three are listed as “sports and recreation” and one as pedestrian.

Motorcycle deaths have remained consistent for the past two fiscal years, according to the safety center. Eighteen airmen were killed in motorcycle crashes in fiscal 2013, comprising 37.5 percent of the year’s 48 off-duty accidents. In comparison, 19 airmen died in motorcycle crashes in fiscal 2012, making up 38 percent of fiscal year’s 50 off-duty deaths.

“Motorcycle riders comprise only about 10percent of the total force but they face greater risks on the road because they are smaller than cars and have fewer safety features,” Neubauer said.

Airmen are required to pass a government-approved training course offered by organizations such as the Motorcycle Safety Foundation before they can ride motorcycles, but the training is not developed by the Air Force or Defense Department. Motorcyclists are also required to wear a helmet and reflective vest.

Motorcycle deaths are not limited to summer. In June, the safety center provided figures showing that the months with the most motorcycle deaths since 2009 have been March, April and May, with almost half of all motorcycle fatalities occurring before June.

“Unfortunately, most of our fatal mishaps are the result of the motorcycle operators exceeding one of those limits and exposing themselves to excessive risk,” Neubauer said. “We see similarly poor risk mitigation choices with automobile operators, but in many cases they are fortunate to walk away from mishaps because of the additional protection provided by modern safety features.”

In addition to car and motorcycle crashes, airmen are also killed during the summer months in off-duty recreational activities, he said.

“These sorts of mishaps occur due to failure to take proper precautions, tragically resulting in drowning, electrocution, falls and even sports related fatalities,” Neubauer said.

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