updated 1/2/2007 3:40:38 PM ET 2007-01-02T20:40:38

The number of air crashes around the world fell 12.4 percent in 2006, making it one of the safest in aviation history, an independent watchdog said Tuesday.

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Last year saw 156 crashes in which planes capable of carrying at least six passengers in addition to crew are damaged beyond repair, compared with 178 in 2005, the Aircraft Crashes Record Office said in a statement.

The Geneva-based organization said 1,292 people died in plane crashes in 2006 — a drop of 11 percent from the previous year.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, air travel increased by 4 percent in 2006 to about 2.1 billion passengers.

Almost a third of all crashes last year occurred in North America, with 45 accidents in the United States alone, ACRO said.

The deadliest accident was the downing of a Tupolev TU-154 in Ukraine in August, in which 170 people lost their lives.

While the largest number of fatalities usually occurs when a large, jet-powered plane crashes, three quarters of accidents last year involved smaller, propeller-powered planes.

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