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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Alaska's Stevens killed in plane crash

NEW YORK TIMES

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was among five people who died in a plane crash in remote southwest Alaska on Monday while on a fishing trip, their small plane weaving through the mountains in clouds and rain before hitting a mountainside.

Nine people were aboard the plane, a single-engine 1957 DeHavilland DHC-3T capable of landing on water. Many of them had deep connections to government and Mr. Stevens' long service in the Senate.

The body of Mr. Stevens, 86, the longest-serving Republican in the history of the Senate, was found just after daylight Tuesday, according to a former aide.

Few other U.S. politicians equaled Mr. Stevens for endurance and grit. He survived enemy fire as a pilot during World War II and a plane crash that killed his first wife more than 30 years ago. He marched through six terms in the Senate, dismissing critics as he delivered billions of dollars for his home state. When a federal jury found him guilty of corruption in 2008, he insisted the verdict would be thrown out - and it eventually was, on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, although not before costing him his seat.

"Though small of stature, Ted Stevens seemed larger than life, and anybody who knew him, knew him that way, for he built for Alaska and he stood for Alaska and he fought for Alaskans," Gov. Sean Parnell said.

President Obama, in a statement, described Mr. Stevens as "a decorated war hero" who "devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform."

"Michelle and I extend our condolences to the entire Stevens family and to the families of those who perished alongside Senator Stevens in this terrible accident," Mr. Obama said.

Sean O'Keefe, a former NASA administrator, and his son Kevin were among those on board who survived, although Mr. O'Keefe was "badly injured," according to an official briefed on the crash. Now an executive with the European aerospace firm EADS, Mr. O'Keefe was a longtime friend and fishing companion of Mr. Stevens.

Officials in Alaska said the plane, owned by GCI, an Alaska telecommunications provider, was first reported overdue about 7 p.m. Monday by the company. The group was believed to be flying earlier in the day to a lodge owned by GCI near Lake Aleknagik.

Authorities said the plane was caught in foggy, rainy weather about 10 miles north of the lake, near Dillingham, a fishing port on Bristol Bay.

Authorities said weather and remoteness prevented them from reaching the crash site until about 7 a.m. Tuesday. A longtime bush pilot in the Dillingham area was among those first at the scene Monday evening, about 1,000 feet up in the scrub of the Muklung Hills Range. The bush pilot, John Bouker, who owns Bristol Bay Air Service and flies often for GCI, said visibility was below 200 feet much of the day, potentially treacherous conditions for flying.

He said the pilot appeared to have been trying a sharp ascent when the plane crashed, perhaps realizing suddenly the proximity of mountains cloaked in the clouds. The authorities said the plane was found on a slope of about 40 degrees.

A doctor and two EMTs hiked to the scene and tended to the survivors' broken bones and other injuries during a frightening night on the mountain until rescue teams could arrive Tuesday morning.

Alaskan officials said three others died in addition to Mr. Stevens and the pilot, Theron Smith: William D. Phillips, Sr., a former chief of staff for Mr. Stevens and a Washington lawyer; Dana Tindall, 48, a 24-year employee and vice president for GCI in Anchorage, and her daughter, Corey, 16.

The four survivors were Mr. O'Keefe; his son, William Phillips Jr., 13; and James Morhard, chief of staff for the Senate Appropriations Committee when Mr. Stevens was its chairman.

The Blade's news services contributed to this report.



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