Ted Stevens Dies in Plane Crash, Samaritans Helped Save Survivors

"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."

"Ted Stevens loved the Senate; he loved Alaska; and he loved his family -- and he will be dearly missed," Bush said in a statement.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also offered her condolences, writing on Facebook Tuesday, "In our land of towering mountains and larger than life characters, none were larger than the man who in 2000 was voted Alaskan of the Century. This decorated World War II pilot was a warrior and a true champion of Alaska."

Alaska National Guard spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes said earlier today that the Guard was called to the area, about 20 miles north of Dillingham, at about 7 p.m. Monday after a passing aircraft saw the downed plane.

State and federal officials say severe weather hampered the rescue operation. The National Weather Service reported rain and fog at Dillingham, with low clouds and limited visibility early Tuesday.

Conditions ranged from visibility of about 10 miles reported at Dillingham shortly before 7 p.m. Monday to 3 miles, with rain and fog, reported about an hour later, according to the agency.

Dillingham is located in northern Bristol Bay, about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The aircraft was a 1957 DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter registered to Anchorage-based communications company GCI, the Federal Aviation Administration told the Anchorage Daily News. The plane dated back to 1957, but the National Transportation Safety Board said it had been retrofitted with a turboprop engine.

Commuting on such small-engine planes are the norm for Alaskans. Stevens survived another similar crash on Dec. 4, 1978, when a Learjet carrying Stevens and his wife crashed at Anchorage International Airport, killing five people, including Stevens' wife Ann.

Ted Stevens Dies in Plane Crash

Given the dependency on air travel and the rugged terrain and flying conditions, Alaska has a relatively dismal safety record for air travel.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), from 1990 through 2008 there were 1,566 commuter and air taxi crashes in the United States. Alaska accounted for more than one-third of all those crashes -- 551 accidents -- and 20 percent of all the fatal crashes during that time.

That number does not included the count of private plane accidents, including Monday's.

The FAA has been working to improve aviation in Alaska, testing a GPS satellite-based navigation system. Tests of that system showed it reduced accidents by 47 percent. But it is likely that the plane carrying Stevens did not have this type of navigation system on it.

Friends of Stevens said he was traveling Monday to the GCI-owned Agulowak Lodge near Lake Aleknagik, the Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.

Stevens was a Republican senator from the state from 1968 to 2009, and later was found guilty of failing to report gifts received when he was a senator.

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