- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — No definitive cause can be determined for the plane crash that killed former Sen. Ted Stevens and four others last summer in Alaska, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

The board agreed at a hearing in Washington that “temporary unresponsiveness” of the pilot could be to blame, but the reasons can’t be determined.

NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said it’s rare for so many people to work so long on an investigation without an agreed-upon conclusion.

Pilot Theron “Terry” Smith was among those killed in the Aug. 9 crash of the single-engine de Havilland Otter floatplane in southwest Alaska.

Four people, including former NASA chief Sean O’Keefe and his son, also were injured when the plane slammed into a mountain an estimated 15 minutes into a flight bound for a fishing camp.

Last month, NTSB released hundreds of pages of documents stemming from its investigation, ranging from the pilot’s medical history to a review of weather conditions, analysis of the plane and interviews with the survivors.

Stevens and Mr. O’Keefe were among eight guests at a General Communications Inc. lodge flying that afternoon to a salmon fishing camp about 52 miles away. Perishing with Stevens, 86, and Smith, 62, were William “Bill” Phillips Sr.; Dana Tindall, 48, an executive with GCI; and her 16-year-old daughter, Corey Tindall.

Several interviews given to NTSB indicated the weather was dreary earlier in the day but had improved by lunchtime.

The lodge manager told NTSB he saw Smith check the weather several times on the computer. A weather information broadcast, cited by the NTSB as current until after the accident time, indicated light rain and mist at the Dillingham airport, about 18 miles from the crash site. It cited forecasts for isolated moderate turbulence and did not recommend visual flight rules, which is how Smith flew that day.

The survivors, in interviews with NTSB, didn’t report anything alarming before the crash. Results of toxicology reports previously released by NTBS showed no drugs or carbon monoxide detected in Smith’s blood.

With the airplane, NTSB found “no pre-existing failures or discrepancies that would preclude normal operation of either the engine or the propeller prior to impact. All the damage to the engine and propeller were consistent with impact forces.”

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