Are Small Planes Safe? Family's Deadly Crash in Florida Sparks Worries

PHOTO: Emergency personnel investigate the site where a Pilatus PC-12, a single-engine turboprop passenger plane, crashed near Lake Weohyakapka, aka Lake Walk In the Water, in southeast Polk County, Fla., June 7, 2012.
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A tragic plane crash in the swamps of Florida that claimed the lives of an entire family including four young children, sparked an outpouring of grief today from their Kansas hometown and the resurgence of fears about what happens when families fly together - especially in small planes.

Ron Bramlage, a businessman from Junction City, Kan., was piloting the single-engine plane as he and his family traveled home from a vacation in the Bahamas. It broke apart and crashed into the Tiger Creek Preserve around 12:30 p.m., killing Bramlage, 45, his wife, Rebecca, 43, and children Brandon, 15; Boston, 13; Beau, 11; and Roxanne, 8.

Junction City Mayor Pat Landes said the family was well-known in the community, supported many local projects and provided college scholarships to local families.

"It's just a horrific loss," Landes told the Associated Press.

The crash raises questions about whether parents and children should fly together to vacation spots, and whether families worry about safely traveling on small planes or even in cars on busy roads.

Alison Rhodes, a national child safety expert, told ABC News that parents should have a plan for what to do if one or both parents die in a crash. Rhodes said parents need to clearly communicate with relatives about "what needs to happen" if there is an emergency when one or both parents perish in a crash.

While the Bramlages and some families insist they want to fly together, other couples insist on flying separately so that one parent will likely survive to take care of the children.

In 2009, when an Air France flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean and claimed the lives of a 34-year-old Swedish mother and her 5-year-old son, the woman's husband and daughter were famously found alive after they had taken a different flight for the family's vacation. The husband said after the crash that they always split up on flights in case of tragedy.

Similarly, Kate Winslet and her ex-husband, Sam Mendes, made headlines when they said in 2009 that they fly separately in case of a crash, so that one parent will survive to take care of the children.

"It's a very personal decision, and either side of this is certainly respectable," therapist Terry Real told ABC News. "I don't think people that decide to fly separately are nuts, I think they're responding to a real fear."

The cause of the crash of the 2006 Pilatus Pc-12/47 in Florida is not yet known, but the Bramlages were traveling home in clear weather when the plane began to break apart. Parts of the plane were found 3.5 miles from where the plane went down.

Flying, even in a small plane, is still less dangerous than driving in a car, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration. In the past two years, there have been no fatal crashes of scheduled commercial jets--the type of flying most Americans do. By comparison, there were more than 10 million car accidents in the US in 2009, resulting in some 35,000 deaths, according to US census data.

While there were no fatal accidents on commercial jets recently, there were 267 fatal accidents among non-commercial planes. The majority of those accidents are caused by human error, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute.

"Airplane travel holds a lower risk of an accident than automobile travel," said Judith Myers-Walls, a child therapist and professor emerita at Purdue University. "So should families never all travel in the same car?"

"The goal could be to live with a reasonable balance between expecting mortality and immortality," Myers-Walls said. "Be prepared for sudden catastrophes by keeping affairs in order, having an updated will, and not neglecting important tasks or relationships. But also be prepared for the very long term."

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