Although four people perished along with former Sen. Ted Stevens in an Alaska plane crash Monday, the death toll would've been higher had it not been for four good Samaritans who raced to the crash site, National Guardsmen said today.
"Undoubtedly, if they hadn't been there, not only might they not have survived the night, our extracation would've been much more difficult," National Guardsman Technical Sgt. Kristofer Abel told "Good Morning America" today. "They helped us enormously."
The volunteers, two emergency medical technicians, a doctor and a nurse, were dropped into the region by aircraft and hiked more than 1,000 feet to the crash site, investigators said. When they arrived, they found the plane on a 30-degree slope but largely intact. One injured survivor had already climbed out on his own. The volunteers performed emergency treatment on the survivors and stayed with them overnight, the Guardsmen said.
"They were all conscious, able to speak," responding National Guardsman Senior Master Sgt. Jonathan Davis said of the survivors.
Abel said the survivors were "pretty banged up" and had several broken bones and suspected internal injuries. But he said thanks to the volunteers, "they had survived long enough that, in my opinion, they're not going to have any issues after we got to them."
"There was a lot of selfless work that was done last night," National Transportation Safety Bureau Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said Tuesday.
Help also came from an unlikely source: fishing waders. According to the Guardsmen, survivors who were wearing the waders may have been better shielded from the elements during that harrowing night before rescue came.
"They act as a survival-type blanket," Davis said. "[They] keep the heat in and the rain out."
One of the survivors was former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe, who is currently in critical condition. His son, who was also on the plane, survived too. The two other survivors were William "Willy" Phillips Jr., 13, and lobbyist and former Stevens aide Jim Morhard of Alexandria, Virginia, according to the Alaska DPS.
In addition to Stevens, the other four who died in the crash were the pilot, Theron "Terry" Smith, 62, of Eagle River, Alaska; William "Bill" Phillips Sr.; Dana Tindall, 48, of Anchorage, Alaska; and her 16-year-old daughter, Corey Tindall, also of Anchorage, the Alaska Department of Public Safety said.
Phillips was a Washington lobbyist and Stevens' former chief of staff. Dana Tindall was a senior vice president for the Alaska telecommunications company GCI.
Across the northernmost state, flags are flying half-mast in honor of Stevens, the man who arguably helped shape the state more than anyone in its history.
Statements poured in commemorating the late senator, who was often at odds with his own party members.
"A decorated World War II veteran, Sen. Ted Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform," President Obama said in a statement Tuesday. "Michelle and I extend our condolences to the entire Stevens family and to the families of those who perished alongside Sen. Stevens in this terrible accident."
Former President George H.W. Bush remembered Stevens as a "respected friend" who "loved the Senate."