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Bad weather hampers Stevens crash rescuers

James Halpin,Richard Mauer,Lisa Demer

Severe weather has hampered the rescue operation for eight people believed to be on board a GCI-owned aircraft that crashed near Dillingham on Monday night with possible fatalities, according to state and federal officials.

The Alaska Air National Guard was called to the area about 20 miles north of Dillingham at about 7 p.m. after a passing aircraft saw the wreckage, spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes said. Eight people were reported to be on board the aircraft, though their status wasn't immediately known, he said. There were possible fatalities, he said.

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 National Guard said an HC-130 and HH-60 helicopter were encountering inclement weather on the way and had difficultly navigating through Lake Clark Pass. They were still en route to the scene at about 11:30 p.m. and expected to arrive after midnight.

About five good Samaritans were already on scene helping the victims of the plane crash, Hayes said.

"They're not out there alone right now. There's people that are providing support," Hayes said. "From what I'm told, there are survivors on this aircraft. I don't know how many could be fatalities at this point."

The aircraft, which was reported overdue, bears the tail number N455A, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That aircraft is a 1957 DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter registered to GCI, according to FAA records. The FAA did not immediately provide other information about how it knows that this is the aircraft.

Friends of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said he was traveling Monday to the GCI-owned Agulowak Lodge near Lake Aleknagik, and they were concerned for him.

A woman who answered the phone at the Anchorage home of retired Air Force Gen. Joe Ralston, a good friend of Stevens, said Ralston was with Stevens' wife, Catherine, comforting her and trying to find out what was going on.

No one answered the phone at the homes of Stevens' daughter, Susan Covich, in Kenai, or his son, Ben, in Anchorage.

Monday's crash is at least the second crash in the area involving a GCI aircraft. In August 2002, a company-owned Magnum Beaver flying supplies from Dillingham to a GCI lodge and sportfishing camp in Wood-Tikchik State Park crashed at Lake Nerva after flipping because its dry-land gear was extended through the floats. The pilot was killed and two other GCI employees suffered minor injuries.

The Otter that crashed near Dillingham on Monday night appears to be the only aircraft owned by GCI, according to an online search of public documents.

GCI is an Anchorage-based provider of telephone, cable TV, Internet and wireless services across the state.

GCI officials did not return repeated calls and e-mails seeking comment Monday night.

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.


By JAMES HALPIN, RICHARD MAUER and LISA DEMER
Anchorage Daily News
Contact Richard Mauer at or on