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Gruesome details of Alaska plane crash emerge

August 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A family spokesman for former Sen. Ted Stevens said he has died in a plane crash in southwest Alaska.Stevens lay dead in the plane's mangled fuselage, a 13-year-old boy managed to stay alive but watched his father die a few feet away, and medical workers spent the cold night tending to the injured.

Such details are emerging as investigators try to figure out how the plane crashed into a mountain during a fishing trip. Three teens and their parents were aboard the plane, including former head of NASA, Sean O'Keefe.

Officials are studying weather patterns to learn if windy and rainy conditions played a role in the crash.

Stevens was one of the most revered politicians in Alaska history. The Republican was remembered as a towering figure who brought in billions of dollars to Alaska during his 40 years in the Senate.

President Barak Obama released a statement describing Stevens as a decorated World War II veteran who was devoted to his career and serving the people of Alaska.

"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," the president said in his statement.

Rescue workers described a horrific scene of airplane wreckage, fuel, rainy weather, dead bodies and frightened survivors.

Temperatures ranged from about 48 degrees to 50 degrees overnight in Dillingham, and rescue workers believe the survivors' heavy duty waders protected them when they went into shock.

Master Sgt. Jonathan Davis, one of the first National Guardsmen to reach the crash site, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the waders helped the injured by acting "as sort of a survival-type blanket," keeping body heat in and water out.

National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said that flights at Dillingham are often dangerous through the mountains, even in good weather. Weather conditions at the time of the accident included light rain, clouds and gusty winds.

Authorities say the federal investigation is still in its early stages, and it's too early to say what caused the crash.

Hersman said the group had eaten lunch at a lodge and boarded a 1957 red-and-white float plane between 3 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. local time for a trip to a salmon fishing camp.

Lodge workers contacted the fishing camp at around 6 p.m. to ask when the party was going to return for dinner, but were told that they never showed up. Civilian aircraft were dispatched and the wreckage was quickly spotted a few miles from the lodge.

Rescue crews were flown to the area and hiked to the wreckage as fog and rain blanketed the area and nightfall set in, making it impossible for rescue officials to reach the scene until daybreak.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the DeHavilland DHC-3T aircraft was registered to Anchorage-based cable and telecommunications company, GCI.

The victims were identified as Stevens; pilot Theron "Terry" Smith, 62, of Eagle River; William "Bill" Phillips Sr.; Dana Tindall, 48, an executive with GCI; and her 16-year-old daughter Corey Tindall.

The four survivors were former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe and his teenage son Kevin; William "Willy" Phillips Jr., 13; and Jim Morhard, of Alexandria, Va. They were taken to Providence Hospital in Anchorage with "varying degrees of injuries," Alaska State Troopers said on Tuesday.

Sean O'Keefe was listed in critical condition Wednesday. His son, Kevin O'Keefe, and Morhard were listed in serious condition.

Stevens and O'Keefe were fishing companions and longtime Washington colleagues who worked together on the Senate Appropriations Committee that the Republican lawmaker led for several years. Stevens became a mentor to the younger O'Keefe and they remained close friends over the years. Morhard and the elder Phillips also worked with Stevens in Washington.


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