Stevens crash investigation under way

 - August 27, 2010, 6:52 AM

The investigation continues into the cause of last month’s crash of a de Havilland Canada DHC-3T Otter turboprop-conversion floatplane in Alaska that killed five, including former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and left four others seriously injured, including former NASA administrator and current EADS North America chairman Sean O’Keefe and his teenage son.

According to NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman, one of the survivors told investigators he did not notice any strange engine noises before the accident. The single-engine Otter, owned by Alaskan telecommunications provider GCI, was carrying the party on a fishing trip from a wilderness lodge to a remote site when it crashed into the side of a mountain approximately 15 minutes after takeoff.
Hersman reported that in an interview, a survivor said the group decided to make the flight to the fishing camp during lunch, after a morning flight was cancelled due to inclement weather. Weather conditions in the area at the time of the accident included light rain, clouds and wind gusts, with visibility of about three miles.

Search Initiated
A tentative NTSB timeline shows that the Otter crashed at approximately 3:30 p.m. and more than three hours passed before it was considered missing. Workers at the lodge who contacted the fishing camp to inquire if the group would be returning for dinner were informed they had never arrived. An aerial search soon located the crash site.

As daylight faded, fog and rain hampered rescue attempts by reducing visibility at the site to less than a quarter-mile under a less than 100-foot ceiling in the area, but a doctor and paramedics reached the site after a local pilot flying a Robinson R44 managed to land nearby, positioning the medical responders to hike the rest of the way and provide care for the survivors overnight.

Killed in the crash along with Sen. Stevens was the pilot, retired Alaska Airlines chief pilot Theron “Terry” Smith, GCI executive Dana Tindall, her teenage daughter and lobbyist William Phillips Sr. Smith, 62, had his pilot certification suspended in 2006 due to a mild stroke suffered while flying for the airline, but the FAA restored it in 2008 after his retirement. He had logged more than 29,000 flying hours during his career, including nearly 2,500 hours in single-engine amphibians, 35 of them in an Otter, according to the NTSB.

Stevens, 86, was the longest-serving Republican senator in history, and during his four decades in office he was a staunch supporter of general aviation.  “Senator Stevens was tireless in promoting aviation in Alaska and throughout the United States. He understood and made sure others understood the critical role aviation plays in our nation’s economy and transportation system,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.

AOPA president and CEO Craig Fuller added that Stevens “consistently advocated the freedom to fly.… His outspoken leadership on this issue will be sorely missed.” Said NATA president James Coyne, “Stevens was a remarkable member of the U.S. Senate as well as a steadfast supporter of the general aviation community.”