- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First-responders to the small-plane crash Monday that killed former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and four others described a horrific crash site and a miserable, perilous night tending to survivors’ broken bones amid a huge slick of fuel that coated a muddy mountainside.

Tom Tucker, who piloted the first rescue plane, said he arrived at the scene Monday at about 7 p.m. local time to airplane wreckage, fuel, rainy weather, dead bodies and frightened survivors who had planned on an idyllic fishing vacation.

Officials offered fresh details on Wednesday about the crash of a small, 1957-model corporate plane in harsh weather in Alaska’s rugged coastal region southwest of Anchorage, a disaster that two days later still has the state reeling.

Mr. Tucker said as he helped shuttle a doctor and two emergency technicians to the scene about three hours after the crash, he saw one survivor still strapped in the front seat with the nose of the plane disintegrated. The passenger’s head was cut, and his legs appeared to be broken.

“The front of the aircraft was gone,” Mr. Tucker said. “He was just sitting in the chair.”

Mr. Tucker and other responders made a tarp tent over the missing cockpit to keep the man dry. It was rainy and cold, and Mr. Tucker thinks the passengers’ heavy-duty waders protected them when they went into shock.

“These individuals were cold,” he said. “We covered them up with blankets and made them as comfortable as we could.”

The plane was owned by General Communications Inc. (GCI), an Anchorage-based provider of telephone, cable-TV, Internet and wireless services across the state.

Former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, survived the crash with teenage son Kevin — one of three teens aboard the red-and-white float plane. He and his son sustained broken bones and other injuries. Mr. O’Keefe was in critical condition Wednesday, and his son was in serious condition, hospital officials said.

Mr. O’Keefe was a staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Mr. Stevens, 86, was chairman from 2003 to 2005. He and Mr. Stevens were longtime fishing buddies. Mr. O’Keefe is now the chief executive of EADS North America, a division of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. Mr. O’Keefe was deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget when President George W. Bush asked him in late 2001 to head NASA.

The four others killed were pilot Theron “Terry” Smith, 62, of Eagle River, Alaska; William “Bill” Phillips Sr., 56, of Germantown, Md.; Dana Tindall, 48, of Anchorage, a GCI executive; and daughter Corey Tindall, 16, of Anchorage.

Mr. Phillips, another former Stevens aide, was a partner in the Washington law and lobbying firm Utrecht & Phillips.

The two other survivors, who were taken to Providence Hospital in Anchorage with “varying degrees of injuries,” were Mr. Phillips’ son, William “Willy” Phillips Jr., 13, of Gaithersburg; and James Morhard of Alexandria, Va.

Mr. Morhard founded the Washington lobbying firm of Morhard & Associates after serving as chief of staff for the Senate Appropriations Committee when Mr. Stevens was chairman.

The flights at Dillingham are often perilous through the mountains, even in good weather. National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said weather conditions at the time of the accident included light rain, clouds and gusty winds.

The federal investigation is still in its early stages, and it’s too early to say what caused the crash, Mrs. Hersman said.

“We’re certainly looking at weather, but everything’s on the table right now, and we haven’t ruled anything out,” Mrs. Hersman told CNN on Wednesday morning. She said investigators had not yet been able to talk to the crash survivors.

*This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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