Why Don't Famous People Die in Plane Crashes Anymore?

I know the boring answers: the premise of the question is flawed; air travel is safer; celebrities die in plane crashes at the same rate as everyone else, but…didn’t this phenomenon seem more common in previous decades? Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Jim Croce, Ricky Nelson, Randy Rhodes, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Payne Stewart, JFK Jr., Sen. Paul Wellstone, John Denver.

The most recent famous celebrity plane crash victim I can think of is probably composer James Horner.

Any thoughts on this morbid topic?

I’m pretty sure Randy Rhodes was killed by “cocaine-fueled jackassery with a plane” moreso than just a “plane crash”

No particular insight, but I’d WAG that it has to do with improvements in how small planes operate: Better technology, better weather forecasting and communications, better professional standards for small plane pilots, etc.

It may also be the celebrities aren’t flying from gig to gig as much. Those massive tour busses seem mighty comfortable.

Probably fewer plane crashes overall. The technology is better in all respects.

Harrison Ford is doing his best to join the list but he keeps managing to walk away from his crashes.

Yeah, but I didn’t want to exclude him. (BTW, I misspelled ‘Rhoads’)

We could substitute Aaliyah or Otis Redding, I guess

Drugs, AIDS, road accidents, but mainly a shorter celebrity life cycle.

Me too!:smack:

Part of it is that general aviation as a hobby was pretty trendy for a few decades there in the 70’s and 80’s, but has declined enormously since then. Although the string of high profile celebrity deaths while at the controls of their own planes was probably one of the reasons for that.

Although I also suspect that if you actually compiled some statistics, the decline in celebrities dying in car crashes would be even more stark. Sure they still die doing stupid things in cars (i.e. Paul Walker, that guy from Jackass,) but who was the last celebrity you heard of who died just driving from point A to point B? That used to be a very common mode of celebrity death back in the 50’s and 60’s.

Hmmm…Princess Diana, I guess.

Well, John Denver was flying an experimental plane with a known, potentially fatal design flaw. That’s not a plane crash that can be compared to any of the others.

Beyond that, I’m not sure we can say that the frequency has declined. You list 9 celebrities who died in the 40 years between 1962 and 2002, less two every decade. Then you note that Horner died just last year. So in the 13 years between 2002 and 2015 you have one death.

There isn’t any statistically significant decline. You’ve dropped from a long term average of ~1.8/decade to a new average of ~0.8/decade based on 11 sample points. Nothing to see there. Random chance explains such a modest decline with such a small sample.

Another point to consider is you sampling method. Your list excludes really big name celebrities like Carol Lombard or Will Rogers who died in the 40s. I’m sure we could find others form the 20s through to the 60s as well. Once you include these, you see that it’s not unusual to have one celebrity per decade die in this manner. You just locked onto a period that was insignificantly higher.

The other point to consider is your definition of a celebrity. You include Randy Rhoades and JFK Jnr on your list, but Rhoades is scarcely a household name and John John is best known as being someone’s kid. Not exactly major league celebrities. I’m sure that if we consider a definition of being famous that includes being someone’s relative and being a guitarist in a rock group with a single top 10 hit and two top 40, we could find others, including Steve Davis, Jenni Rivera, Lech Kaczynski and half the Russian hockey league. As with the “celebrities die in threes” meme, this one has a lot of confirmation bias. We remember celebrities who were famous in our formative years as being “big names”, so we remember JFK Jr and Rhoades but we ignore the deaths of celebrities of greater stature from before or after that period.

Yeah, I mention in the OP that it probably isn’t a real phenomenon, just that it kind of seems like one. I was basically picking names out of a hat, with no real method of sampling.

I would argue that JFK Jr. was a big celebrity in his own right, but other than that, love your analysis. Thanks.

Do a count and then tell us how many (more or less) famous people died each year:

Don’t forget Lynard Skynard. Several deaths there.

Can’t believe I forgot that one!

James Horner, film score composer (most notably of Titanic) died last year when the plane he was piloting crashed.

This article
Makes the following points on the decline of general aviation:

  1. Airline deregulation and liability are increasing the cost differential as opposed to just taking a commercial flight
  2. The repeal of the national speed limit is decreasing the time differential as opposed to staying on the ground.

Nitpick: Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash

IIRC the famous plane crash of Ricky Nelson was initially blamed on freebasing cocaine (think Richard Pryor, a recent event at the time). the answer is more mundane… I remember reading a Flying magazine analysis of the crash. Apparently one of the cabin heaters started smoking and the passenger’s complaints became more an more vocal as the smoke became thicker. It is believed the passengers were already out or dead by the time the plane put down in a field, and the pilots barely escaped through the cockpit windows.

there was a suggestion the rumors were started by the owner of the DC3 who did not want the poor reliability of the plane to be investigated. But, this was a DC3; nowadays, celebrities can rent private jets which are convenient, a lot newer and have tighter maintenance requirements (as do all aircraft today). the drug trade has thoughtfully removed the inventory of larger old propeller aircraft, leaving only John Travolta, IIRC, to have this interesting means of… whatever.

Maybe, simply, fewer celebrities are dying, eh?