Five of nine people aboard a GCI plane that crashed near Dillingham are reported dead, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. A spokesman for former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said Tuesday morning that Stevens was on board the plane and is among the dead.
"I can confirm to you that the senator died in the crash," said Mitch Rose, former chief of staff to Stevens.
Also aboard the plane was former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, according to media reports.
Another plane spotted the wreckage 17 miles north of Dillingham at around 7 p.m. Monday, according to the Alaska Air National Guard. Rescuers were expected to reach the wreckage at midnight, but a handful of good Samaritans were on the scene earlier in the evening, Guard spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes said Monday night.
The downed plane -- a 1957 DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter -- is registered to General Communications Inc., according to a friend of one of the people believed to have been on the plane. The Anchorage-based telecom company operates a lodge near Dillingham. In summer, GCI employees, clients and guests routinely fly to the lodge on GCI's plane.
A friend of Stevens' confirmed to Alaska Dispatch that he was on the plane. But who died and who survived is unknown as of 8:50 a.m. Tuesday. In a statement released shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday, GCI president and CEO Ron Duncan said the company was not able to confirm specific information about the plane's passengers.
"We are aware of news reports stating that four of the nine individuals on board the aircraft have survived," Duncan's statement reads. "At this point, I cannot confirm or comment on these reports. We are waiting for authoritative information from the rescue units. All of our energies are focused on working with the rescue units and mobilizing to support the families and friends of the individuals on the aircraft."
The Air National Guard landed a helicopter at the crash scene at about 7:30 a.m., according to a Guard press release, and medical workers are currently treating victims at the scene. A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 is providing overhead support and will be available to fly victims in need of serious medical care from Dillingham to Anchorage.
No matter whether an Alaskan calls former Senator Ted Stevens "Uncle Ted" with fondness or derision, that Alaskan cannot deny that the Great Land would not be what it is today without him.
Stevens' career in government service and politics began when he was appointed U.S. Attorney in Fairbanks in 1953. Over the next several years, Stevens shut down gambling halls on the Last Frontier and helped the territory win its statehood by advising the Secretary of Interior. He shepherded a settlement that protected the ancestral lands of Alaska's native people and ushered in the state's 1970s oil boom. Stevens drafted complex laws governing the Bering Sea's prolific fisheries -- and as a master of the Senate earmarking game, helped Alaska secure tens of billions of federal money, which brought many rural villages into the modern era. He spent nearly 40 years in the U.S. Senate -- making him the longest-serving Republican in Congress's upper chamber.
Stevens' legacy was tainted by his relationship with oilman Bill Allen, who was at the center of a sweeping political corruption scandal. In fall 2008, Stevens was convicted in a Washington, D.C. federal court for not reporting gifts from Allen, but the judge later threw out the conviction, citing prosecutorial misconduct. Still, Stevens lost his bid for reelection in November 2008 to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat.
Begich issued the following statement Tuesday: "I join Alaskans and others across the country waiting for details of last night's tragic plane crash near Dillingham. My thoughts and prayers are with those on board the plane and their families as we wait for more information."
Begich's father, Nick Begich, died in a plane crash in 1972 in Alaska. He was the state's lone U.S. representative.
Stevens' death in an aviation accident would contain a sad kind of congruence. At Anchorage International Airport in 1978, before it was named after him, the former senator survived a Learjet crash which claimed the lives of five fellow passengers, including his first wife Ann, with whom he had five children.
In 1944, Stevens earned his wings in the Army Air Corps, and flew transport aircraft for the next two years in the China-Burma-India theater of World War II. During his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the U.S. military's highest individual honor for aviation heroism.
After the war, Stevens earned a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA, and then a law degree from Harvard Law School. He began practicing law in Washington D.C. for the firm of Northcutt Ely and became a legal advisor for Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, Alaska. In 1952, Stevens drove up the Alaska Highway to practice law in Fairbanks, and in 1953, he was appointed U.S. Attorney there.
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