Former Sen. Ted Stevens Dies in Alaska Plane Crash

Former Sen. Ted Stevens killed in Alaska plane crash.

August 10, 2010, 4:07 PM

Aug. 10, 2010— -- Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, 86, died in a plane crash in southwest Alaska, a spokesman for the Stevens' family confirmed to ABC News today.

Five of the nine people who were on board died in the plane crash that occured Monday night near Dillingham, Alaska, and two were seriously injured. Rescue crews reached the wreckage Tuesday morning, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said today.

Former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe was also a passenger on the plane. O'Keefe is the current chief executive of the U.S.-based division of defense contractor, EADS North America, and was in charge of NASA from 2001 to 2005.

A source at NASA told ABC News that O'Keefe and his son Kevin both survived the crash but were severely injured.

The other four who died in the crash were Theron "Terry" Smith, 62 of Eagle River, Alaska, the pilot; 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.

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.

Statements poured in commemorating the late senator who was often at odds with his own party members.

"A decorated World War II veteran, Senator 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. "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."

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, "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 milessouthwest of Anchorage.

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

Commuting on such small engine planes are a 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. Stevens' wife Ann, was killed.

Nick Begich, who was Alaska's lone congressman in 1972, was also killed in a similar crash when his plane disappeared over the Gulf of Alaska with then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana.

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 (CDC) and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 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 the one Monday.

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 earlier today.

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.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder later decided to drop all charges against Stevens, vacating his conviction. Holder had cited serious prosecutorial misconduct during the trial. But the charges cost Stevens his career, making him the first longest serving senator to not win back his seat.

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