Flying, she insists, is less dangerous than driving in a car, an assertion supported by 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.
"Airplane travel holds a lower risk of an accident than automobile travel," Myers-Walls said. "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 r relationships. But also be prepared for the very long term."
Families should also be aware that smaller planes, while not as dangerous at automobiles, are statistically riskier than commercial jets. While there were no fatal accidents on commercial jets in 2010, 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.
In the case of Jeffrey Buckalew, the father and pilot of the plane that crashed Tuesday, the Socata TBM-700 plane hit a patch of icy air and began to ice up, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Buckalew was an experienced pilot, but the plane began to spin out of control before falling to the ground, according to ABC affiliate WABC. The crash is still under investigation.
Killed in the accident were Buckalew and his wife Corinne, both 45, and the couple's children, 9-year-old Jackson and 6-year-old Meriwether. The family lived in Charlottesville, Va., but had an apartment in New York City, and the children were students at Saint Anne's Belfield school in Virginia. Buckalew's business partner, Rakesh Chawla, 36, was also killed, and is survived by his wife and children.
Tuesday's crash shared characteristics with other small plane accidents, including that of John F. Kennedy, Jr., who decided to pilot his own single-engine plane, a Piper Saratoga, on a night of bad weather. According to the NTSB, Kennedy reportedly turned down an offer by one of his flying instructors to accompany him on the night flight, saying he "wanted to do it alone," federal investigators say.
The NTSB reported that the likely cause of the 1999 crash was "failure to maintain control of the airplane" due to spatial disorientation of the pilot. Nothing was found to be wrong with Kennedy's plane. Kennedy's plane crashed as he was flying with his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, from Fairfield, N.J., just outside New York City, to Martha's Vineyard on July 16, 1999. All three died.