As Alaskans temporarily suspend political differences to commemorate the productive life and sudden death of former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, many facts are emerging. One fact not widely reported is that Senator Stevens reportedly had a premonition that he would die in a plane crash. This premonition occurred back during the 1970s, before he was involved in a plane crash at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on December 4th, 1978 that killed five of seven people on board, including his first wife, Ann. As a result, Senator Stevens placed a premium on air safety during his stewardship, becoming a key supporter of legislation intended to help relatives of those killed in air crashes. Stevens also played a leading role in crafting the landmark 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which addressed indigenous land claims by creating native corporations instead of reservations. In exchange for $15 billion and title to 44 million acres of ancestral homeland, native corporations gave up their claims on the rest of the state. That agreement paved the way for a 1973 bill authorizing the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The magnitude of Ted Stevens' accomplishments are so great that he was one of the rare people to get a public facility, Anchorage International Airport, re-named for him while he was still alive.
Note: All Anchorage Daily News stories on Ted Stevens are accessible on this dedicated page.
The New York Times, of all sources, has published the most detailed account of the plane crash that took the lives of five people, including Senator Stevens, and injured the other four passengers. The single-engine DeHavilland DHC-3T took off at 3 p.m. Monday August 9th, 2010 from a GCI corporate site on Lake Nerka, heading to the Agulowak Lodge on Lake Aleknagik (map HERE). Weather conditions at the time were cloudy and showery; observations from nearby Dillingham showed scattered clouds below 1,000 feet with a broken deck around 1,300 feet and higher cloud layers at 2,500 feet. It is believed that the pilot got lost in the cloud cover and lost radio contact. Instinctively, the pilot apparently began racing to a higher elevation when the plane slammed into the Muklung Hills at about 1,000 feet about 10 miles northwest of Lake Aleknagik with such force that it left a 300-foot gash on the slope. Because the pilot was flying under VFR rules, he was not required to file a flight plan, the lack of which caused a delay before authorities became aware of the problem. Other pilots overflying the area as early as 7 p.m. on Monday reported that the plane had not completely broken up on impact.
All victims have now been identified. In addition to Stevens, the other fatalities were Dana Tindall, Corey Tindall, William Phillips and Theron "Terry" Smith. Among the four survivors are ex-NASA chief Sean O'Keefe, his teenage son Kevin, Jim Morhard and Willy Phillips. Two of the four survivors were first treated at Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham, but all four were eventually flown to Anchorage and taken to Providence Hospital.
The National Transportation Safety Board reported that it will send a "Go Team" from Washington, D.C., to Dillingham to investigate the crash. The teams can consist of up to a dozen or more specialists from the board's headquarters staff and are responsible for investigating major cases -- they are the arm that responds to "catastrophic airline crash sites" -- for the board, according to the NTSB.
The Washington Post has published a lengthy obituary. Senator Stevens is survived by Susan Stevens Covich, Beth Stevens, Walter Stevens, Ted Stevens and Ben Stevens from his previous marriage to Ann, in addition to his present wife Catherine and their daughter Lily Stevens Becker. Tributes and condolences have poured in from all over; Alaska Politics lists condolences from a host of national figures, whule KTUU Channel 2 lists condolences from Alaskan figures. Ted Stevens' family issued the following statement:
Alaska and the nation, he so loved, have lost a great man. We have lost a tremendous husband and father and grandfather. He loved Alaska with all his heart. He was a guiding light through Statehood and the development of the 49th State. Now that light is gone but the warmth and radiance of his life and his work will shine forever in the last frontier. His legacy is the 49th star on the American flag.
In Washington, Ted was always willing to cross the aisle to accomplish great things. He was a tireless defender of our armed forces. He was a leader in so many endeavors: conservation of our fisheries, responsible development of our national resources and harnessing the potential of the state and nation he loved so dearly.
He was a patriot and a true American success story. He came from humble roots but willed his way through flight school, service in World War II, Harvard law school and all the way to the U.S. Senate. He loved the Senate and was a fierce advocate of its role in our Democracy and its responsibility under the Constitution which reserves the power of the purse to the legislative branch.
We grieve for the dear friends who also lost their lives and we thank the courageous men and women of the Alaskan Command, the Alaska National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Alaska State Troopers for their rescue and recovery efforts.
Tributes from a host of ordinary citizens can be found appended as public comments to stories in the Anchorage Daily News, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, KTUU Channel 2, and the Juneau Empire. The Alaska Standard has published three stories, HERE and HERE. The News-Miner also has a memorial guestbook HERE.