5 killed, 4 injured in Alaska plane crash

O'Keefe

JUNEAU, Alaska -- A single-engine plane carrying former Sen. Ted Stevens crashed into a remote Alaska mountainside, killing the state's most beloved political figure and four others and stranding the survivors on brush-and-rock-covered slopes overnight until rescuers could reach them.

Volunteers discovered the wreckage late Monday and tended to the injured, including Stevens' fishing buddy, ex-NASA chief Sean O'Keefe, until help could arrive Tuesday.

Investigators arrived late Tuesday at the crash site outside Dillingham, located on Bristol Bay about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage. The cause of the crash was not yet known, but the flights at Dillingham are often perilous through the mountains, even in good weather.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said the plane, a 1957 DeHavilland DHC-3T registered to Anchorage-based General Communications Inc., took off at 2 p.m. Monday from a GCI corporate site on Lake Nerka, heading to the Agulowak Lodge on Lake Aleknagik.

He said the plane was flying by visual flight rules, and was not required to file a flight plan.

National Weather Service data shows that weather conditions deteriorated between 1 and 2 p.m., the approximate time the FAA said the plane took off. Visibility at Dillingham, the nearest observation area, was about 10 miles with overcast skies at 1:49 p.m.; it was 3 miles by 2:22, with light rain, fog and mist reported.

Volunteer pilots were dispatched around 7 p.m. after the plane was overdue at its destination. They came upon the wreckage about a half hour later, authorities said.

The weather soon took a turn for the worse, with heavy fog, clouds and rain blanketing the area and making it impossible for rescuers to arrive until after daybreak.

O'Keefe, his son and two others were flown to the hospital. The O'Keefes had broken bones and other injuries, former NASA spokesman Glenn Mahone said.

Stevens and O'Keefe, 54, were fishing buddies who had been planning a trip near where the float plane crashed.

Alaska state troopers identified the victims as Stevens; pilot Terry Smith, 62, of Eagle River; Bill Phillips Sr., no age or hometown given; Dana Tindall, 48, of Anchorage; and Corey Tindall, 16, of Anchorage.

Four survivors were taken to an Anchorage hospital with "varying degrees of injuries." They were the O'Keefes; Willy Phillips Jr., 13, no hometown given; and Jim Morhard of Alexandria, Va.

The bodies of Stevens and the other four victims remained at the scene Tuesday, investigators said.

The Stevens crash is the latest in a long line of aviation accidents to claim political figures over the years in the U.S., including Pennsylvania Sen. John Heinz in 1991, South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson in 1993, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan in 2000 and Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone in 2002.

Plane crashes in Alaska are relatively common because of the treacherous weather and mountainous terrain. Many parts of the state are not accessible by roads, forcing people to travel by air to reach their destinations.

Stevens was one of two survivors in a 1978 plane crash at Anchorage International Airport that killed his wife, Ann, and several others.