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Beacon Failure Slowed Ted Stevens Discovery by Hours, NTSB Says

Rescuers could have reached the site of an Alaska plane crash last year that killed former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens hours sooner if a mechanism designed to alert them had worked properly, U.S. investigators said.

The crash into a mountainside 10 miles northeast of Aleknagik, Alaska, killed five of nine people bound for a remote fishing camp aboard a DeHavilland DHC-3T, built in 1957 and equipped with floats, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane had a transmitter designed to signal its location to rescuers via satellite, and to reach aircraft, air-traffic controllers and emergency personnel with compatible receivers, according to a recommendation letter by the board released today in Washington.

The transmitter was functioning, though it had separated from a mounting bracket and antenna, so no signals were received, according to the board.

The crash occurred about 2:42 p.m. Alaska time on Aug. 9, and searchers didn’t find the plane until 7:30 p.m., according to the NTSB. Poor weather and nightfall then prevented rescuers from reaching the plane until the next morning, the NTSB said.

Had the transmitter not become detached, “it is likely that the signal would have been detected soon after the accident, and search and rescue personnel could have been dispatched directly to the accident site hours earlier,” the NTSB said in the letter to Randy Babbitt, the chief U.S. aviation regulator.

The NTSB did not address whether Stevens or the other four people who died might have survived if there had been a quicker rescue.

NTSB Recommendations

The board recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration require small airplane operators to ensure transmitters are properly mounted during annual inspections and to determine whether the agency’s mounting requirements are adequate.

Stevens, an Alaska Republican, and survivor Sean O’Keefe, chief executive officer of North American operations for European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co NV, were in a group planning to fish for silver salmon when the plane crashed. A lodge where the passengers stayed, the camp where they were headed and the plane are owned by General Communication Inc., the Alaskan telecommunications provider.

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