Ted Stevens 2010-08-09
Theron "Terry" Smith
William "Bill" D. Phillips, Sr.
Dana Tindall
Corey Tindall

Stevens dead in plane crash; O'Keefe survives

By BECKY BOHRER, The Associated Press, Published: August 10th, 2010

A plane carrying former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and eight others crashed Monday in remote Southwest Alaska, killing the longtime Republican lawmaker and four other people, authorities said this morning.

Sean O'Keefe was also aboard, and the NASA Watch website is reporting that he and his son survived the crash.

Stevens' family has been notified that the 86-year-old was among those killed in the crash, family spokesman Mitch Rose said..

Rescuers arrived on helicopter early Tuesday and were giving medical care to survivors, Alaska National Guard spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes said.

Ted Stevens Three survivors are being taken in two helicopters this morning to Dillingham, where a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 will fly them to Anchorage for treatment, said Alaska National Guard spokeswoman Kalei Brooks.

Brooks said she didn't know the identities of the three survivors or if anyone else survived the crash. She said the 11th Air Force Rescue Coordination Center could not confirm reports from the National Transportation Safety Board this morning that five people died in the accident.

Rescuers arrived on helicopter early Tuesday, Brooks said. "There's less than a quarter-mile visibility and less than 100 feet of ceiling ... between the clouds and the ground."

Alaska officials reported that nine people were aboard the aircraft and that "it appears that there are five fatalities," NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz told The Associated Press in Washington.

Lopatkiewicz said the NTSB is sending a team to the crash site outside Dillingham, located in the northern Bristol Bay region about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage. The aircraft is a DeHavilland DHC-3T Otter registered to Anchorage-based GCI.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said the plane took off at 2 p.m. Monday from a GCI corporate site on Lake Nerka, heading to the Agulowak Lodge on Lake Aleknagik. He didn't know if that was the final destination or a refueling stop.

Dana Tindall The GCI lodge is made of logs and sits on a lake, and photos show a stately main room with an imposing stone fireplace, a leather sofa and a mounted caribou head on the wall.

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

Stevens and O'Keefe are fishing buddies, and the former senator had been planning a fishing trip near Dillingham, friend William Canfield said. The flights at Dillingham are often perilous through the mountains, even in good weather.

Hayes said the Guard was called to the area about 20 miles north of Dillingham around 7 p.m. Monday after a passing aircraft saw the downed plane. But severe weather has hampered search and rescue efforts.

The National Weather Service reported rain and fog, 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 later.

At least three crash victims were being airlifted to Anchorage, Guard spokeswoman Kalei Brooks Rupp said. She said volunteers hiked into the crash site Monday night and provided medical aid until rescuers arrived.

Stevens, a moderate Republican, was appointed to the Senate in 1968 and served longer than any other Republican in history. He was beloved as a tireless advocate for Alaska's economic interests.

The White House said Obama administration officials were closely watching news out of Alaska.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked Alaskans to join her in prayer for all those aboard the aircraft and their families, as did Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. He called the plane crash tragic. Begich's father, Nick Begich, who was Alaska's only congressman in 1972, was killed when his plane disappeared over the Gulf of Alaska with then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana.

Stevens was one of two survivors in a 1978 plane crash at Anchorage International Airport that killed his wife, Ann, and several others. He remarried several years after the crash -- he and his second wife, Catherine, have a daughter, Lily.

Over the years, Stevens directed billions of dollars to Alaska.

But one of his projects -- infamously known as the "Bridge to Nowhere" -- became a symbol of pork-barrel spending in Congress and a target of taxpayer groups who challenged a $450 million appropriation for bridge construction in Ketchikan.

Stevens' standing in Alaska was toppled by corruption allegations and a federal trial in 2008. He was convicted of all seven counts -- and narrowly lost his Senate seat to Begich in the election the following week.

But five months after the election, Attorney General Eric Holder sought to dismiss the indictment against Stevens and not proceed with a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct by federal prosecutors.

O'Keefe, 54, was NASA administrator for three tumultuous years. He was deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget when President George W. Bush asked him in late 2001 to head NASA and help bring soaring space station costs under control.

But budget-cutting became secondary when the shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry in 2003.

O'Keefe's most controversial action at NASA was when he decided to cancel one last repair mission by astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope. He said the mission was too risky. His successor overturned the decision. The Hubble mission was carried out last year.

O'Keefe left NASA in 2005 to become chancellor of Louisiana State University. He is now the CEO of defense contractor EADS North America and oversees the bid for the hotly contested Air Force refueling jet contract.

The company said O'Keefe was a passenger on the plane. The company said it had no further information about O'Keefe's status.

The contract competition, which pits EADS against rival plane maker Boeing Co., is for a piece of what could eventually be $100 billion worth of work replacing the military's fleet of aging tankers.

Additional information from Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins. Associated Press writers Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, and Pauline Jelinek, Matt Apuzzo and Natasha Metzler in Washington, D.C., also contributed.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Ted Stevens, 4 others die in plane crash
Some of the 4 survivors spent the night trapped in the wreckage

By RICHARD MAUER, LISA DEMER and KYLE HOPKINS, Anchorage Daily News, Published: August 11th, 2010

As the bodies of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and four other victims of Monday's plane crash were returned to Anchorage, federal officials on Tuesday began their investigation into why the single-engine floatplane flew into a mountain north of Dillingham.

The crash tragically cut short a planned silver salmon fishing trip to the Nushagak River for Stevens and the eight others on board the plane, a vintage de Havilland Otter owned by the Anchorage telecommunications company GCI. The passengers were guests of GCI and were staying at a GCI-owned lodge on the Agulowak River near Lake Aleknagik.

Four passengers survived the crash and were flown by the Coast Guard to Anchorage hospitals. Former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe was reported in critical condition, while his son was listed as serious. The conditions of the other two, lobbyist Jim Morhard, 53, of Alexandria, Va., and Willy Phillips, 13, of the Washington, D.C., area, were not made public.

In addition to Stevens, the victims were identified as Dana Tindall, 48, of Anchorage, a GCI senior vice president; Tindall's daughter, Corey, 16; Washington, D.C., lobbyist Bill Phillips, a former Stevens chief of staff; and Willy Phillips' father; and the pilot, Terry Smith, 62, of Eagle River, a retired Alaska Airlines chief pilot.

THE PLANE GOES MISSING

A high-level team from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Anchorage Tuesday to begin the investigation. As NTSB staff flew to Dillingham, where bad weather kept them from the crash site, the board's chair, Deborah Hersman, held a news conference at Ted Stevens International Airport to report preliminary findings based on interviews of rescuers and other witnesses.

The plane was on the mountain for several hours before it was noticed missing. Then, with Alaska Air National Guard and Coast Guard rescuers unable to reach the site, the survivors spent Monday night at the wreckage, some still trapped inside. They were assisted by a physician and local emergency medical personnel flown to the site by area helicopter pilots before the clouds descended.

It could not be determined whether all the victims were killed on impact, or whether any perished later.

Air National Guard and Coast Guard reached the wreckage shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday. They freed the trapped survivors and transported the four by helicopter to Dillingham.

Hersman said in Anchorage on Tuesday afternoon that the plane came to rest in a ravine with a 30-degree slope, about a 15-minute flight from the GCI lodge. The area was steep, slippery and wet, she said.

Hersman said the plane and its passengers left the lodge after lunch, between 3 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.

About 6 p.m., someone from the GCI lodge called the fish camp to see when they would be returning for dinner.

"And it was at that point that they found out that the group never arrived at the fish camp," Hersman said.

FINDING THE WRECKAGE

At a late-morning news conference in Anchorage, Maj. Gen. Tom Katkus, the Alaska National Guard commander, said the plane didn't send an automatic locator signal when it crashed, but he could not explain why.

John Bouker, owner of Bristol Bay Air Service in Dillingham, had just finished an air taxi flight when the FAA flight station in Dillingham mentioned to him Monday evening that the GCI plane was missing.

"Dillingham flight service station told me that GCI was concerned about the location of their Otter," Bouker said in a phone interview. "So I got the information where they were going from and where they were going to and I backtracked their flight path."

Others were looking too, including GCI president Ron Duncan, a jet-rated pilot.

After searching about 35 minutes, Bouker said, he spotted wreckage about 1,000 feet up an unnamed mountain in the Muklung Hills, about a third of the way from the lodge to the fish camp.

"I found them on a side of the mountain at about 1,000 feet, right below the fog," Bouker said. "The fog kind of cleared and I found the airplane in the side of the mountain."

The Otter had plowed into the hill, Bouker said. "He bounced up the mountain. He looked like he was in a full-power climb."

From the air, the plane appeared mostly intact, he said. "It looked like it was survivable." He didn't see anyone on the ground, but the rear door was open.

AT THE SCENE

Within 15 minutes, helicopter pilot Tom Tucker of Tucker Aviation in Dillingham had landed on a ledge above the crash site. A GCI employee was in Tucker's aircraft, Bouker said. Another commercial helicopter pilot, Sam Egli of Egli Air Haul in King Salmon, also got to the scene, Bouker said.

The helicopter pilots landed in the fog, Bouker said. "They came down in the pitch-ass dark in a raging-ass storm. I don't know how they did it. Those are the heroes."

The pilots carried emergency medical technicians from Dillingham to the scene, but they couldn't free the injured passengers.

"They were trapped in the airplane. They could not get them out," Bouker said. They needed tools to extract the trapped people.

Kevin O'Keefe, the son of the former NASA head, was in the front right seat with serious injuries, Bouker said; he didn't know where the other survivors were.

One of the rescuers brought to the site was a physician, who was dropped off 1,000 feet from the crash and had to bushwhack through willows and alder to reach the victims, said Hersman of the NTSB.

The doctor had a satellite phone and radios, and people on the scene were in contact with the lodge and Dillingham, Hersman said.

There was no post-crash fire, though the doctor could smell fuel, and no one was ejected from the aircraft. The wings were swept back and debris littered the hillside for about 100 yards, she said.

By the time the doctor arrived, one passenger had been able to leave the plane, Hersman said.

She did not identify the doctor or name the passenger who freed himself.

Alaska National Guard spokeswoman Kalei Brooks said the 11th Air Force Rescue Coordination Center reported that conditions were marginal when rescuers arrived in the morning by helicopter. "There's less than a quarter-mile visibility and less than 100 feet of ceiling ... between the clouds and the ground."

A LAND OF LODGES

Before GCI bought the lodge for entertaining company officials, clients, friends and others, it was known as the Wood River Lodge and was open to the public, said Robin Samuelsen, chief executive of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

The region, much of it inside Wood-Tikchik State Park, is upriver from Bristol Bay. It is studded with magnificent lodges, many of them catering to well-heeled clients.

"It must be what heaven looks like," Samuelsen said.

The views and fishing come with pricey rates. Clients who aren't wealthy often talk about a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" as the reason they go.

Companies also maintain lodges for business reasons. A lawsuit in Anchorage some years back revealed that the Anchorage Native corporation Cook Inlet Region Inc. had access to a place called the Golden Horn Lodge, where it entertained board members, staff, clients and politicians. Stevens was forced to reimburse the owners in 2007 when the Daily News reported he stayed there in 2001 and 2003 but didn't disclose the visits as gifts.

THE PILOT'S EXPERIENCE

As beautiful as the region is, it is also notorious for white-knuckle flying, with frequent low clouds, rain and winds.

Hersman of the NTSB said Smith, the pilot, had a long resume in the cockpit. As of his last medical, in December 2009, he had an estimated 29,000 hours total flight time, she said.

But many of those hours were spent in commercial passenger jets. "We need to determine how much time in this (aircraft) and how familiar he was with the route," Hersman said. "That's one of the questions that our investigators will be asking, about pilot experience."

In a statement, Alaska Airlines said Smith retired from the airline after a 28-year career. He served as chief pilot in the airline's Anchorage base and pioneered its service to the Russian Far East in the late 1980s. In 2001, he received the company's highest honor, its Customer Service Legend Award.

Smith was the father-in-law of Maj. Aaron Malone, a pilot who was killed July 28 when a C-17 crashed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, said family friend Jim Bridwell, another retired Alaska Airlines pilot.

Most of the other passengers had some kind of tie to Stevens or GCI.

Phillips worked for Stevens from 1981 to 1986, according to his law firm biography. He was a frequent attendee during Stevens' trial on corruption charges in 2008, sitting among the senators' friends and relatives. As a lobbyist and lawyer, Phillips specialized in regulation, transportation, telecommunications, technology, energy and national defense issues -- all subjects under Stevens' purview in the Senate.

Morhard was a former staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee under Stevens. He left that job to found Morhard and Associates, a lobbying firm, according the Washington, D.C., publication The Hill. A 2003 profile of him in National Journal described him as "serious and soft-spoken."

9 passengers on tragic flight

The nine people in Monday's plane crash near Dillingham:

The five who died:

Ted Stevens, 86, former U.S. senator, homes in Girdwood and Washington, D.C.

Theron "Terry" Smith, 62, of Eagle River, a retired 28-year Alaska Airlines captain. Flying the plane Monday.

William "Bill" D. Phillips, Sr. Former chief of staff for Stevens in the 1980s. A lawyer. Faithfully attended Stevens' corruption trial in Washington, D.C.

Dana Tindall, 48, of Anchorage. A senior vice president of GCI. With the company more than 24 years.

Corey Tindall, 16. Tindall's daughter and a student at South High School.

The four who survived:

William "Willy" Phillips, Jr., 13. Son of Bill Phillips.

Sean O'Keefe, 54. Former NASA chief.

Kevin O'Keefe. O'Keefe's son.

Jim Morhard, 53, of Alexandria, Va. A former staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee under Stevens. Left that job to become a D.C. lobbyist whose clients included the Air Transport Association of America.

Single-engine De Havilland Otter DHCT-3 Original
Designation: DHC-3
Total Production: 466
First Flight: December 1951
Production Run: 1951-1967
Basic Role: Utility/Transport
Capacity: 2 Pilots / 9-10
Passengers Horsepower: 900 shp flat-rated
Wingspan: 58' 0"
Max Weight (Floats): 8,000 lbs Cruise
Speed: 166 mph
Range: 4.64 hrs

NTSB releases reports from investigation of Stevens crash

By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press, Published: April 22nd, 2011

JUNEAU -- Witness and survivor accounts released Thursday paint a dramatic picture of the aftermath of the plane crash that killed U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and four others last August but give no clear indication of the cause.

The National Transportation Safety Board plans to release its probable cause findings next month.

The hundreds of pages of documents that the NTSB released stem from its investigation into the Aug. 9 crash in Southwest Alaska. Stark images of the aftermath also were released, including pictures of the amphibious aircraft with its wings peeled back and parts of the aircraft crumpled like a smashed soda can.

Some of the information has been discussed before, including questions about weather conditions at the time of the crash. But there are also newly released witness and survivor accounts, providing details about the events surrounding the crash.

For example, in one interview, Robert Himschoot, who was among the first people on the scene, recounted helping two emergency medical technicians to the site to assist a doctor who was already there, and finding two others later who had been lost and unable to help that night.

Poor weather also hindered further rescue attempts and supply drops; the survivors were brought off the mountain the following morning.

Stevens and former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe were among eight guests at a General Communications Inc. lodge flying to a salmon fishing camp the afternoon of Aug. 9, about 52 miles away. NTSB estimates the accident happened about 15 minutes into the flight.

Perishing were Stevens, 86; 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.

Interviews given to NTSB indicate the weather earlier in the day was dreary but had improved by lunchtime, when plans were made to take the trip.

The lodge manager told NTSB he had seen Smith check the weather several times on the computer. Computer data analyzed for NTSB showed weather sites checked between 7:40 a.m. and 11:33 a.m. though it's not clear who was checking the sites.

A weather information broadcast, cited by NTSB as current until after the accident time, indicated light rain and mist at the Dillingham airport, about 18 miles south of the crash site. It said isolated forecasts for isolated moderate turbulence and did not recommend visual flight rules, which is how Smith flew that day.

Dani Bowman, the wife of GCI executive Ron Duncan and the doctor who was on scene the night of the crash, said she and Duncan flew in the general area of the crash site, without knowing it, not long after Stevens' group had left. She described the visibility as "good."

The four survivors did not report anything alarming before the accident. At least one said that all passengers were wearing life preserver vests. Another said the weather was unremarkable and that Smith made several turns to avoid terrain, which he called "characteristic" Alaska flying. He said Smith made a left turn, going up a hill just before impact but didn't consider the angle unusual or hear any change in engine sound before the crash.

Smith's former employers and others who knew him spoke highly of his skills; results of toxicology reports released by NTBS show no drugs or carbon monoxide detected in his blood, and an autopsy determined the cause of his death, and of all the victims, was blunt force trauma.

Smith was grounded from flying from March 2006 to April 2008, according to NTSB, due to a stroke. Medical records later reviewed by NTSB indicated he was "fully recovered."

As for the airplane, NTSB found "no pre-existing failures or discrepancies that would preclude normal operation of either the engine or the propeller prior to impact. All the damage to the engine and propeller were consistent with impact forces."