Investigators Find No Distress Signal Before Alaska Plane Crash, NTSB Says

U.S. investigators have found no signs of a distress call before a single-engine airplane crashed in Alaska, killing former Senator Ted Stevens and four of eight other people, the head of the transportation safety agency said.

The National Transportation Safety Board plans to interview flight service workers and personnel from the lodge where the trip started and the fishing camp that was the intended destination, board Chairman Deborah Hersman said yesterday during an Anchorage briefing. Investigators haven’t yet been able to interview the four survivors, she said.

Stevens, an Alaska Republican, and survivor Sean O’Keefe, chief executive officer of North American operations for European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., were in a group planning to fish for silver salmon when the plane crashed on Aug. 9 near Dillingham, Alaska. The lodge, camp and plane are owned by General Communication Inc., the Alaskan telecommunications provider.

Injuries suffered by O’Keefe, former head of the U.S. space agency, and his son Kevin, also aboard the plane, “do not appear to be life-threatening and we are confident they will have a full recovery,” said Paul Pastorek, Louisiana state superintendent of education, speaking for the O’Keefe family in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The crashed plane may have gone unnoticed for as long as six hours based on the timeline the NTSB is compiling. Investigators will ask about flight procedures, Hersman said.

Survivor Interviews Thwarted

NTSB investigators have tried to interview the survivors who were transported on Aug. 10 to an Anchorage hospital, and were unable to because of “their medical condition,” Hersman Said yesterday, without giving details.

The plane, a DeHavilland DHC-3T built in 1957 and equipped with floats, hit the ground first with its left wing, Hersman said. The fuselage is largely intact and the engine still attached, she said. None of the passengers was ejected in the crash that occurred in an area of very dense vegetation and about 800 feet elevation, she said.

The plane crashed about 15 minutes away by air from the GCI lodge and investigators don’t know the route of the plane, which departed the lodge between 2 and 3 p.m. local time, Hersman said. Investigators plan to interview personnel from the lodge and camp, she said. The pilot, who died in the crash, wasn’t required to file a flight plan for the trip.

GCI asked the local flight-service station for a search and rescue response for the missing plane about 7 p.m. and a pilot of a Cessna 207 who was in the area and assisted reported the wreckage had been located about an hour later, Hersman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net

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