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Stevens Plane Plowed Into Mountain, Crash Survivor Tells NTSB

The plane that crashed in Alaska, killing former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, was flying normally before it plowed into a mountain, a survivor of the Aug. 9 accident told U.S. transportation-safety investigators.

The survivor, who was interviewed yesterday in Anchorage by the National Transportation Safety Board, “said they were flying along and then they just stopped flying,” board Chairman Deborah Hersman said yesterday on a conference call with reporters. The survivor, who she didn’t name, said “there was no change in pitch or engine noise” before the crash, which killed five people.

The board also released three photos of the crash site showing the wrecked plane, a DeHavilland DHC-3T single-engine. Before coming to rest on the remote, brush-covered mountain, the plane carved a scar in the ground of 100 feet (30 meters) to 150 feet, Hersman said.

“The ground scar is pretty straight in one direction,” she said, saying investigators have not named a cause for the crash. “There is still a lot of analysis to do.”

The safety board previously investigated accidents involving the pilot of the flight that carried Stevens and the owner of the plane, Alaska telecommunications provider General Communication Inc., Hersman said.

The accident involving pilot Theron “Terry” Smith was in 1997 when he failed “to maintain directional control” while landing a plane with tundra tires in Alaska, the board found. Smith, a former commercial pilot for Alaska Air Group Inc., died in the Aug. 9 crash. The board also investigated a 2002 accident that killed the pilot of a GCI-owned plane in the same region, finding the cause was the pilot’s failure to retract the float plane’s wheels before landing on water.

Second Survivor

The second survivor who was interviewed yesterday said he recalls a safety briefing from Smith and that he was wearing his seatbelt, Hersman said. The unidentified passenger said he fell asleep in the front passenger seat of the plane once in flight and woke up after the crash.

Four people, including Sean O’Keefe, chief executive officer of North American operations for European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., survived the crash.

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