Student Research: David Canton

, Occupational Medicine (Occ Med), 1999
Faculty Advisor: Matthew C. Keifer

An Analysis of United States Coast Guard Aviation Mishaps Between 1993 to 1998 for Potenial Risk Factors


Aircraft crashes have been identified as a significant cause of premature and preventable mortality. The ten-year mortality rate between 1980 and 1990 from aircraft mishaps for the entire U.S. was 5.2 deaths per 1,000,000 general population. In a Canadian study, it was determined that the death rate for commercial airline pilots from aircraft crashes was 127 per 100,000 person –years. Furthermore, in the same study, aircraft crashes were identified as resulting in 32% of all commercial pilot deaths. Likewise, the nature of the work environment within the U.S. military places service members at increased risk for aircraft mishaps. This increased risk is evidenced by the aircraft mishap mortality ratio for military personnel from 1980 to 1990, which was 9.8 deaths per 100,000 active duty service members.

A review of all aircraft crashes/mishaps has determined that in excess of 50% of all events are the results of human error. Factors identified as contributing toward human error include: workload, distraction, motivation/attitude, fatigue, experience, resource utilization problems, sensory interference and sensory illusions. These factors induce stress in the aircrew, which lead to decisions or actions which subsequently result in the aviation mishap. Identification of these stresses can be used to train aircrew to respond to the individual stress in a more appropriate way, thereby avoiding the mishap.

Although Tim Ungs has reviewed national and armed forces data, mishap specific trends within the U.S. Coast Guard have not been extensively reviewed. While the U.S. Coast Guard is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, it is often not viewed as a member of the U.S. military and was not included in the military mishap data to determine aircraft mishap death ratios.

In a time of war or national crisis, the U.S. Coast Guard becomes aligned with the U.S. Navy. The Coast Guard is directed and funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Coast Guard is responsible for ocean search and rescue (SAR), drug interdiction, fisheries enforcement, marine environmental pollution monitoring and alien interdiction. Because of its diverse missions, the Coast Guard operates different aircraft in different environments from the rest of the armed forces. Different missions in different environments utilizing different equipment will create different stressors. Therefore, although it is reasonable to assume that human factors are a significant cause of Coast Guard aircraft mishaps, it may not be correct to use training and operation doctrine from other services to correct mishap problems in the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has a total of approximately 34,000 active duty personnel. Based on military ten-year mortality ratio, we would expect an average of 3.3 deaths per year. The difference in stressors, in conjunction with the difference in mortality rate and lack of extensive prior study would justify further investigation of the aircraft mishap situation within the Coast Guard.