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Airplane pilots
Airplane pilots
Alaska bush pilot Heidi Ruess.
Fatality rate: 57.1 per 100,000

Median wages: $106,240

When former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens died in a small plane accident recently, it underscored the hazards Alaskan bush pilots face.

That crash followed the script of many Alaskan accidents, where the most common cause of fatalities is "flying into terrain, under speed," according to the BLS.

Heidi Ruess, an Anchorage-based bush pilot with 40 years experience, says, "You can't compare Alaskan flying with the rest of the country."

Volatile Alaskan weather and vertical topography can cause pilots to lose visibility in fog and fly into steep mountainsides.

She used to take tourists, hunters and fishermen out to remote locations until she flipped her Cessna 185. She had only three passengers -- the plane can take five -- but she was still over-loaded because, in addition to gear, they had packed up four or five caribou.

"We don't have roads [in Alaska] and you can't drive in to pick up the gear and the game," she says.

She also flipped a float plane a few years before as she landed to pick up duck hunters. She tried to use mud to brake but it was frozen and the plane hit a big ditch and sent her tumbling.

After that, she concentrated on teaching. She cautions her students that the two biggest reasons for flying accidents are physical conditions, which pilots can rarely do much about, and judgment, which they can.

NEXT: Farmers and ranchers

Last updated August 20 2010: 9:38 AM ET
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