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Associated Press 2000 rate less than half of agency's busiest season

BOISE, Idaho - The Forest Service had one of its lowest aviation accident rates last year, despite one of the busiest seasons ever for pilots, according to a report issued by the National Interagency Fire Center.

In 2000, Forest Service pilots and private pilots contracted with the agency flew 111,854 hours, the second most flight hours in the agency's history. It suffered four accidents for a rate of 3.57 per 100,000 hours.

The rates are a global measurement of aviation safety calculated as an average number of mishaps per 100,000 flight hours. A mishap is any incident that has the potential to cause damage, injury or death, said Rose Davis, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

She said the Forest Service recorded only one fatal accident last year - the crash of a single-engine spotter plan near Alamogordo, N.M., that killed the two men aboard.

The Forest Service's rate last year was less than half the rate of 8.42 recorded in 1994, when flight hours were comparable at 118,000, the agency said.

The average rate during the 1990s was fewer than 6 per 100,000 flight hours. But some rates were substantially higher than in 2000, even when the number of hours flown was considerably less.

"We've had better mishap rates in slower years, but nothing close to this in a big fire season," said Tony Kern, aviation and safety training manager for the Forest Service. "This is a terrific accomplishment, but even one accident is too many."

Davis attributed the low rate to a commitment by pilots and the Forest Service to ensure safety.

"There was definitely a sense of awareness among our aviation folks," she said.

In the Forest Service's Region 1, which includes Montana, northern Idaho and portions of North Dakota and South Dakota, the Forest Service had just one accident in 2000, Kern said.

That incident occurred in Montana, when a plane dropping supplies by parachute to firefighters was damaged and had to make an emergency landing.

Kern said a parachute on one of the cargo containers wrapped around a tail surface on the airplane, damaging its flight controls.

"The pilots were already flying pretty low and that put them into a dangerous pitch," he said. "But they were able to stop the descent and they landed the plane safely."

The pilots were not injured.

By the numbers

In 2000, Forest Service pilots and private pilots contracted with the agency flew 111,854 hours, the second most flight hours in the agency's history. It suffered four accidents for a rate of 3.57 per 100,000 hours.

The Forest Service's rate last year was less than half the rate of 8.42 recorded in 1994, when flight hours were comparable at 118,000, the agency said.

The average rate during the 1990s was fewer than 6 per 100,000 flight hours.

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