Former Senator, Ted Stevens, and former NASA administrator, Sean O’Keefe, and his son, Kevin, were enroute to a fishing lodge late on Monday evening, when the plane crashed, killing five people and leaving four people seriously injured.
The crash happened Monday night, but it took the rescuers 12 hours to get to the crash site and it was many hours, before victims and survivors were able to be identified. Visibility in the area had a ceiling of 100-500 feet.
Rescuers finally reached the area by helicopter at 6:00am Tuesday morning. Their efforts were hampered by winds and low clouds. It was finally confirmed that Ted Stevens was one of the fatalities, but O’Keefe and his son were alive. The survivors were airlifted to Anchorage for emergency treatment.
The crash location was discovered by a good-samaritan flight 17 miles away from Dillingham. The plane had left Lake Nerka on its way to a fishing camp. Good-samaritan flights are a common activity in remote areas when a plane goes silent and becomes overdue to its next location. The aircraft was a single-engine Turbo-Otter, Dehavilland, with a 12 passenger capacity.
According to Mort Mason, a former Alaska bush pilot, who spoke to CNN by phone, the weather was most likely a consideration or mechanical failure could have caused the crash. There will be no way of determining the cause until a full investigation has been completed. The plane did not file a flight plan, but that was not unusual in such remote areas. Since there are no instrument facilities out there, the plane would have been “contact flying”, which means it would fly from point to point on its way to the final destination.
Ted Stevens was the longest reigning Republican in the senate. He came into the national spot-light in 2008, when he was convicted of corruption involving receiving illegal gifts. The following year, the charges against him were dismissed due to prosecution misconduct.
Traveling by small plane is as common in Alaska, as traveling by car is to the rest of the United States. There are no roads in many remote areas of Alaska, so people and supplies have to be flown in to fishing communities, fishing/hunting resorts, and camps. Pilots are very skilled at landing on gravel strips, beaches, or on the water. Older planes are regularly retrofitted and updated with newer technology.
Statement from Washington State Senator Patty Murray regarding the loss of Ted Stevens:
“Today we lost a committed public servant, a strong fighter for the Pacific Northwest, a husband, father, and loyal friend to me and so many others. I was proud to serve with Ted Stevens in the United States Senate. And my thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and loved ones of everyone we lost in this tragic accident. Senator Stevens dedicated his life to his family and to the public he served for so many years. His passion, commitment, and friendship will be missed, and I join with people from the Pacific Northwest and across the country in mourning this loss and in offering my condolences to his wife Catherine, his children, and the many others who loved him dearly.”
President Obama also issued a statement of condolences from himself and Michelle.
Ironically, Senator Ted Stevens survived a plane crash several decades ago, in which his first wife was killed. Stevens died one day after his 86th birthday.
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