Former Sen. Ted Stevens Dies In Plane Crash
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
We're going to begin this hour with the details of the plane crash that took the life of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Five of the nine people onboard the small plane died when it went down in a wild, sparsely-populated area near the town of Dillingham. Former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe was onboard as well. According to a statement from the aerospace giant EADS, O'Keefe and his son both survived. O'Keefe is now an executive with EADS.
We'll focus on Senator Stevens' long career in politics in a few minutes, but first, NPR's Martin Kaste tells us about the accident.
MARTIN KASTE: For several hours this morning, Alaskans waited to hear the fate of their longest-serving senator. Sketchy reports of survivors at the scene kept hope alive, along with the memory of Stevens' survival in another crash: the 1978 Learjet accident at the Anchorage airport, which killed his first wife. But by late morning, that hope was gone.
Mitch Rose is a close friend and former press secretary for Stevens.
Mr. MITCH ROSE (Former Press Secretary of Senator Ted Stevens): Senator Stevens' family was notified that he did not survive the plane crash near Dillingham. He's gone.
KASTE: The single-engine float plane went down in one of the most beautiful and rugged parts of Alaska, about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage. The Bristol Bay region is known for its fishing, especially trout and salmon, and in the summer, private lodges attract VIPs from the lower 48. Mitch Rose says he believes the former senator was on a fishing trip.
Mr. ROSE: He was an avid fisherman. Any time that he could get away and get a rod and a reel in his hand, he did, and especially in Alaska. And I wouldn't be surprised if he was traveling with friends to go, you know, land a king salmon somewhere.
KASTE: The plane belonged to GCI, a local telecom company that owns a fishing lodge nearby. In that part of Alaska, airplanes are often the only way to get around, but the weather can be treacherous. Rick Halford is a pilot who was flying in the same area yesterday afternoon. He says visibility was poor.
Mr. RICK HALFORD (Pilot): It was the kind of weather where you probably shouldn't fly, and if you do fly, you have to fly very, very carefully, and you have to recognize that you may have to land on a small water body and be stuck there if you get into weather that closes in, in front of you and behind you.
KASTE: The plane went down yesterday evening, but the weather delayed rescue missions until morning. In Alaska, this kind of risky flying is a fact of life, and it's not the first time a crash has claimed the life of a prominent politician. In 1972, a small plane carrying Congressman Nick Begich and then House Majority Leader Hale Boggs disappeared on a flight to Juneau, prompting a massive search. They were never found.
Now, a crash has claimed the life of the man many in the state called Uncle Ted for his fierce devotion to bringing federal funds to Alaska. Even at the low point of his career when he was convicted on corruption charges late in 2008, he was able to find rapturous crowds of supporters back home.
Mr. TED STEVENS (Former Republican Senator, Alaska): Yes, sir.
Unidentified Man #1: I voted for you every time, and nothing has changed.
Mr. STEVENS: Good, thank you. I appreciate it.
Unidentified Man #2: Ted, I'm so glad you're here.
Mr. STEVENS: Thank you. It's nice to be home.
KASTE: Alaskans will now look for ways to memorialize the man once chosen as the Alaskan of the Century. But they can't name the Anchorage Airport after him - they did that years ago.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.
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