Cause of Crash Still Unclear

The plane crash that killed former Senator Ted Stevens and four others was on its way to a fish camp Monday when it crashed north of Dillingham. Photo courtesy of Alaska State Troopers.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it’s too early to say what caused Monday’s plane crash near Dillingham that killed Senator Ted Stevens and four others. The agency is expecting to hold a media briefing sometime today to announce any updates in the investigation.

The four survivors of the plane crash were flown yesterday to Providence hospital in Anchorage. The hospital lists former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe in critical condition. His son, Kevin O’Keefe is in serious condition along with Jim Morhard. A fourth survivor, teenager William Phillips Junior is not in the Providence patient database, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t at the hospital. Patients can opt out of the system.

Details of the crash are emerging as the NTSB tries to figure out how the float plane crashed into a low mountain during a fishing trip. A pilot who was one of the first to arrive at the crash site described a horrific scene of airplane wreckage, fuel, dead bodies and frightened survivors.

EMT’s and one doctor from Dillingham helped at the scene, tending to the survivors as they waited out a long and miserable night.

Ron Bowers is a local Dillingham resident and EMT, who monitored the response from home. He says the tragedy mobilized the entire town:

“The whole community, many people were up throughout the entire night – from the local pastors, the local youth group. People were praying. The local store brought food for people. The hospital was mobilized. The fire department was mobilized. Much of this town was lying awake at night, listening to the radio, wanting to help and many people did.”

Meanwhile, former Senator Ted Stevens is being remembered as a giant in the state who brought billions of dollars to Alaska during his 40 year career. Historian Steve Haycox says for Alaskans, Stevens was much more than a national figure. He was “our history.” At least since the 1950s.

“He was a significant participant in all of the major developments that have shaped modern Alaska. Alaska statehood – he was a very active and in some ways critical player. He was a very significant player in the Claims Settlement Act of ’71. And its impossible to write anything about the history of ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act without acknowledging Stevens central role. So in additional to his senatorial career, being apart of what has made Alaska what it is today is now gone.”

Haycox says Stevens’ death thrusts Alaskans into an new era.

“This is not a perfect analogy, but its not unlike when your parents pass and that changes you. Suddenly you become the foundation, rather than standing on the foundation of your parents. Well, in a sense Ted Stevens was analogous to a parent of modern Alaska and now that parent is gone. It’s inevitable that it should happen. But that does not change the significance of it, the feeling of it, when it really happens. And its happened to us now.”

A spokesman for Stevens says the family is making funeral and memorial service arrangements, but isn’t ready to announce plans yet.

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

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