Previous reviews of pediatric asthma mortality have mostly been from hospital-based clinic populations and suggest that only those with severe asthma are most at risk. This report summarizes an investigation, by interviewer-administered questionnaire, into the circumstances surrounding the death in all patients aged 20 years or less who died from asthma in the State of Victoria over a 3 year period from May 1, 1986. During this period, 51 deaths due to asthma were reported. Thirty-three percent of these were judged to have a history of trivial or mild asthma, and 32% had no previous hospital admission for asthma. However, 36% were judged to have had severe asthma, 43% were taking regular inhaled beclomethasone or sodium cromoglycate, and 10% were taking regular oral steroids. Twenty-two percent had a previous admission to an ICU. Death occurred outside hospital in 40 (78%) subjects. In the final attack 63% had sudden onset and collapse within minutes, 12% were found dead, and 25% had acute progression of an established attack. The investigators assessed 39% of the deaths to have had potentially preventable elements. The preventable factors included: inadequate assessment or therapy of prior asthma (68%), poor compliance with therapy (53%), and delay in seeking help (47%). The majority of subjects in this survey could not be classified as "high risk." Therefore, clinicians should ensure that all young patients with asthma are aware of optimal maintenance management, can recognize deteriorating asthma, and follow a clear individualized crisis plan.