Former Alaska Sen. Stevens dies in plane crash

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Former Sen. Ted Stevens, an uncompromising advocate for Alaska for four decades who delivered scores of expensive projects to one of the nation's most sparsely populated states, including the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," has died in a plane crash. He was 86.

Ted Stevens
Al Grillo

FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2008 file photo, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, speaks in Anchorage, Alaska, announcing that he is running for re-election. Stevens was believed to be aboard a plane that crashed amid southwest Alaska's remote mountains and lakes, authorities said Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)

AP Photo/Al Grillo

In this Sept. 19, 2008 file photo, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, answers a question during a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska.

AP Photo/Bill Feig

In this Feb. 17, 2005 file photo, Sean O'Keefe, answers questions at a news conference on the Baton Rouge campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La.

Family spokesman Mitch Rose said Tuesday that Stevens was among five people killed in the crash of a small aircraft outside Dillingham, about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Stevens began his career in the days before Alaska statehood and did not leave politics until 2008, when he was convicted on corruption charges weeks before Election Day. But a federal judge threw out the verdict because of misconduct by federal prosecutors.

Stevens, a moderate Republican, was appointed in December 1968 and became the longest-serving Republican in Senate history. (The late Strom Thurmond was in the Senate longer than Stevens, but he spent a decade there as a Democrat before switching to the GOP.)

The wiry octogenarian was a legend in his home state, where he was known as "Uncle Ted." Though he was built like a birch sapling, he liked to encourage comparisons with the Incredible Hulk — an analogy that seemed appropriate for his outsized place in Alaska history.

The crash that killed Stevens was not his first. Shortly after being elected to his second full term in 1978, he was aboard a private jet that went down at Anchorage International Airport, killing his first wife, Ann.

Stevens' standing in Alaska was hurt by allegations he accepted a bonanza of home renovations and fancy trimmings from VECO Corp., a powerful oil field services contractor, and then lied about it on congressional disclosure documents.

Indicted on federal charges in July 2008, he asked for an unusually speedy trial, hoping to clear his name before Election Day. Instead, he was convicted in late October of all seven counts — and narrowly lost his Senate seat to Democrat Mark Begich in the election the following week.

In his farewell speech to the Senate, he said: "I look only forward and I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me."

Five months after the election, Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the indictment and declined to proceed with a new trial because of misconduct by federal prosecutors. Stevens never discussed the events publicly.

When his party held a majority, Stevens — known as a formidable parliamentarian — was chairman of several Senate committees, including the powerful Rules and Appropriations panels. For three years, he was majority whip. When the Democrats took back control of the Senate in January 2007, he lost his chairmanships but remained ranking Republican member of the powerful Commerce Committee.

His skill in appropriating military and other federal money for Alaska earned him the reputation among many in Washington as a pork-barrel politician.

Revered in Alaska — he was named Alaskan of the Century in 1999 for having the greatest impact on the state in 100 years — he brought in "Stevens money" that literally helped keep the remote state solvent. The Anchorage airport is also named in his honor.

"The only special interest I care about is Alaska," he was fond of saying.

A television reporter once quipped that Stevens could shoot Santa's reindeer and Alaskans would applaud.

He helped shape landmark legislation on Alaska Native land claims, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, fisheries management and public lands.

One of his projects became a symbol of pork-barrel spending in Congress and a target of taxpayer groups who challenged a $450 million appropriation for bridge construction.

The "Bridge to Nowhere" would have connected Ketchikan, Alaska, to an island with just 50 residents at a cost of nearly $400 million. The proposal became a symbol of the waste associated with earmarks, which are items inserted into bills, often at the last minute.

Congress scrubbed funding for the bridge in 2005.

The following year, Stevens became the butt of jokes and satirical songs for describing the Internet as "a series of tubes" and for speaking of sending "an Internet" instead of an e-mail.

Most of the wisecracks portrayed Stevens as an old man who did not understand the technology over which he wielded influence as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Stevens also was known for being easily angered both in private and on the Senate floor. Stevens saw his volatile temperament as a political tool.

"I don't lose my temper," he told the Anchorage Daily News in 1994. "I always know where it is."

When critics called for his resignation after a Los Angeles Times story detailed how Stevens became a millionaire investing in companies he helped secure government contracts, he said: "If they think I am going to resign because of a story in a newspaper, they're crazy."

Stevens also took flak for aiding groups that hired his son, former state Senate President Ben Stevens, as a consultant and for pushing a lease deal with Boeing after it hired his wife's law firm.

In 2007, FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided Stevens' four-bedroom house south of Anchorage as part of the probe into his relationship with VECO. Former company chief Bill Allen, who pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state legislators, testified that he oversaw extensive renovations at Stevens' home and sent VECO employees to work on it.

During the trial, Stevens spent three days on the witness stand, vehemently denying any wrongdoing. He said his wife handled the business of the renovation and paid every bill they received. He said he paid $160,000 for the project and believed that covered everything.

It took Stevens some time to initially win over Alaska voters. He was the Republican nominee for the Senate in 1962, but lost in the general election to incumbent Ernest Gruening, and six years later he lost his party's nod to Anchorage banker Elmer Rasmuson.

But when incumbent Democrat Bob Bartlett died in December 1968, Stevens was appointed to the vacancy by then-Gov. Walter J. Hickel, a Republican. Stevens won his first full term in 1972, and in subsequent elections was retained by wide margins. He won his sixth full term in 2002 with 78 percent of the vote.

Theodore Fulton Stevens was born Nov. 18, 1923, in Indianapolis. His parents divorced when he was young and, in 1938, he moved to southern California to live with relatives.

After graduating from high school in 1942, he attended college for a semester before joining the Army Air Corps. He flew cargo planes over "the hump" in the Himalayas during World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, Stevens finished college at UCLA and in 1950 earned a law degree at Harvard. Fresh out of law school, he moved to Washington, D.C., to work and, in 1953, he drove cross-country to the Territory of Alaska to take a job in Fairbanks.

In 1954, Stevens was named U.S. attorney in Fairbanks and two years later returned to Washington to work on the statehood issue for Interior Secretary Fred Seaton, a statehood supporter. Eventually Stevens rose to become the Interior Department's top lawyer.

He moved back to Alaska in 1961, opening a law practice in Anchorage. After losing the 1962 Senate race to incumbent Gruening, he won a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives. He was House majority leader when appointed to finish Bartlett's term.

Two years after the 1978 plane crash, he married Catherine Chandler, a lawyer from a prominent Democratic family in Alaska.

When Republicans took control of the Senate in 1981, Stevens became assistant majority leader. In 1984, he ran for majority leader, but lost by three votes to Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. The most senior Republican in the Senate, Stevens served as Senate President Pro Tempore and was third in the line of succession for the presidency until Democrats regained control of Congress in 2007.

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Dan Moody's picture

Victims in crash that killed

Victims in crash that killed Stevens identified

Anchorage Daily News

Published: August 10th, 2010 07:07 PM
Last Modified: August 10th, 2010 08:17 PM

Former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, a political icon who helped steer Alaska from its frontier territorial days to its modern present, was among five people killed in the crash of a lodge floatplane near Dillingham on Monday

Four people survived the crash into a steep, remote hillside 17 miles north of Dillingham, and at least three were flown to an Anchorage hospital in a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft. The bodies of Stevens, 86, and the other victims were returned to Anchorage on Tuesday afternoon.

Among the survivors was former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe and his son, Kevin.

Besides Stevens, Alaska State Troopers identified the victims as Dana Tindall, 48, of Anchorage, a senior vice president for the Alaska telecommunications company GCI; Tindall's daughter Corey, 16; Washington, D.C., lobbyist Bill Phillips, a former Stevens chief of staff; and the pilot, Terry Smith, 62, of Eagle River.

The other survivors were Phillips' son Willy, 13, and lobbyist Jim Morhard, 53, of Alexandria, Va.

The plane, a vintage, single-engine de Havilland Otter, was reported missing about 7 p.m. Monday, some four hours after it took off for a fishing site. The plane was owned by GCI, which also owns a guest lodge near Lake Aleknagik on the Agulowak River in prime fishing country. Stevens and the other passengers were the guests of GCI.

Deborah Hersman, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said in Anchorage on Tuesday afternoon that the plane came to rest in a ravine with a 30-degree slope, about a 15-minute flight from the GCI lodge. The area was steep, slippery and wet, she said.

Hersman is leading an unusually high-level team of investigators for a remote Alaska plane crash. At a news conference at Ted Stevens International Airport, she said NTSB officials have not yet reached the site but have been able to interview witnesses and people involved in the search and rescue effort.

Among them was a physician who was flown to within 1,000 feet of the crash site and traveled on foot to reach the wreckage. The doctor helped the survivors overnight, Hersman said.

There was no post-crash fire, though the doctor could smell fuel, and no one was ejected from the aircraft. The fuselage was largely intact, but the wings were swept back and debris littered the hillside for about 100 yards, she said.

By the time the doctor arrived, one passenger had been able to leave the plane, Hersman said.

She did not identify the doctor or name the passenger who freed himself.

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Poor weather had hampered rescue efforts. The wreckage was discovered at about 7:30 p.m. by a local pilot searching for the Otter, but fog soon covered the area.

The first assistance came from area residents, including the physician, who were flown to the nearby ledge by a commercial helicopter pilot. They were able to provide aid and comfort to the victims and communicate the situation to state officials, but National Guard and Coast Guard air rescue crews sent to the area were unable to approach the crash site in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft until about 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Alaska National Guard spokeswoman Kalei Brooks said the 11th Air Force Rescue Coordination Center reported that conditions were marginal when rescuers arrived by helicopter. "There's less than a quarter-mile visibility and less than 100 feet of ceiling ... between the clouds and the ground."

At a late-morning news conference in Anchorage, Maj. Gen. Tom Katkus, the Alaska National Guard commander, said the plane didn't send an automatic locator signal when it crashed, but he could not explain why. Katkus and other officials at the news conference said it was too early in the event to suggest a cause for the crash.

Most of the information about the crash came from witnesses and others in the Dillingham region. Robin Samuelsen, chief executive of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., said Stevens and the others were headed to the Nushagak River for an afternoon of fishing for silver salmon. Hersman said the left the lodge after lunch, about 3:15 p.m.

The wreckage of the GCI-owned Otter was discovered by John Bouker, owner of Bristol Bay Air Service in Dillingham.

"I was in the air last night about 7:30 p.m., flying an air-taxi trip," Bouker said in a telephone interview. "Dillingham flight service station told me that GCI was concerned about the location of their Otter. They hadn't seen or heard from their Otter since 2 o'clock in the afternoon. So I got the information where they were going from and where they were going to and I backtracked their flight path."

Bouker he saw the wreckage just below the cloud line.

"The fog kind of cleared and I found the airplane in the side of the mountain," he said. He didn't know the mountain name, or even if it had one, but it was in the Muklung Hills, about a third of way to way to their destination.

The Otter had plowed into the hill, Bouker said. "He bounced up the mountain. He looked like he was in a full power climb. ... He looked like he was climbing when he hit."

Bouker couldn't see anyone on the ground but thought the back door was open.

Within 15 minutes, helicopter pilot Tom Tucker of Tucker Aviation in Dillingham had landed on a ledge above the crash site. A GCI employee was in Tucker's aircraft, Bouker said. Another commercial helicopter pilot, Sam Egli of Egli Air Haul in King Salmon, also got to the scene, Bouker said.

The helicopter pilots landed in the fog, Bouker said. "They came down in the pitch-ass dark in a raging-ass storm. I don't know how they did it. Those are the heroes."

The pilots carried emergency medical technicians from Dillingham to the scene but they couldn't free the injured passengers.

"They were trapped in the airplane. They could get not get them out," Bouker said. They needed tools to extract the trapped people.

Kevin O'Keefe, the son of the former NASA head, was in the front right seat with serious injuries, Bouker said; he didn't know where the other survivors were.

The GCI lodge is on the headwaters of the Agulowak River. Before it became a corporate lodge for entertaining company officials, clients, friends and others, it was known as the Wood River Lodge and was open to the public, Samuelsen said.

The region, much of it inside Wood-Tikchik State Park, is upriver from Bristol Bay. It is studded with magnificent lodges.

"It must be what heaven looks like," Samuelsen said.

The views and fishing come with pricey rates. Clients who aren't wealthy often talk about a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" as the reason they go.

Companies also maintain lodges for business reasons. A lawsuit in Anchorage some year back revealed that the Anchorage Native corporation Cook Inlet Region Inc. had access to a place called the Golden Horn Lodge, where it entertained board members, staff, clients and politicians. Stevens was forced to reimburse the owners in 2007 when the Daily News reported he stayed there in 2001 and 2003 but didn't disclose the visits as gifts.

The region is also notorious for white-knuckle flying, with frequent low clouds, rain and winds.

In a statement, Alaska Airlines said Smith, the pilot of the Otter, retired from the airline after a 28-year career. He served as chief pilot in the airline's Anchorage base and pioneered its service to the Russian Far East in the late 1980s. In 2001, he received the company's highest honor, its Customer Service Legend Award.

Phillips worked for Stevens from 1981 to 1986, according to his law firm biography. He was a frequent attendee during Stevens' trial on corruption charges in 2008, sitting among the senators' friends and relatives. As a lobbyist and lawyer, Phillips specialized in regulation, transportation, telecommunications, technology, energy and national defense issues -- all subjects under Stevens' purview in the Senate.

Jim Morhard was a former staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee under Stevens. He left that job to found Morhard and Associates, a lobbying firm, according the The Hill. A 2003 profile of him in National Journal described him as "serious and soft-spoken." The profile said he was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Arlington, Va.

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Former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, a political icon who helped steer Alaska from its frontier territorial days to its modern present, was among five people killed in the crash of a lodge floatplane near Dillingham on Monday.

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One less corrupt former

One less corrupt former politician that the taxpayers have continue to feed. Good riddance.

 's picture

Dittman took back his

Dittman took back his statement, Stevens death is not confirmed yet, only rumor


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