Monica Rocks in the Gaslamp

(CNN) — It's too early to say whether former Sen. Ted Stevens and the four others who died in an Alaskan plane crash initially survived but eventually succumbed while waiting to be rescued, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board told CNN Wednesday. “We don't know that information at this point,” Deborah Hersman told CNN's “American Morning.” “It's going to be up to the medical examiner to determine the cause of death.” Autopsies on the victims are expected to be completed by the end of the day Wednesday. The plane flew into the side of a mountain in remote southern Alaska Monday night, authorities said. Brutal terrain and bad weather kept survivors waiting 12 hours for rescue after the crash, officials and witnesses said. The accident left five people dead and four others injured. Hersman said the investigation into the cause of the crash is “in the very early stages” and teams have been systematically gleaning detail from interviews with first responders. // <![CDATA[ var currExpandable = “expand14”; if(typeof CNN.expandableMap === 'object') { CNN.expandableMap.push(currExpandable); } var currExpandableHeight = 360; // ]]>   Video: A look at the Alaska plane crash site // <![CDATA[ var mediaObj = new Object(); mediaObj.type = 'video'; mediaObj.contentId = ''; mediaObj.source = '/video/us/2010/08/11/vo.ak.crash.site.AKStateTrooper'; mediaObj.source = mediaObj.source.replace('/video/',''); // ]]> // <![CDATA[ mediaObj.lgImage = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('src'); mediaObj.lgImageX = 640; mediaObj.lgImageY = currExpandableHeight; mediaObj.origImageX = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('width'); mediaObj.origImageY = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('height'); mediaObj.contentType = 'Video'; CNN.expElements.expand44Store = mediaObj; // ]]> // <![CDATA[ var cnnRelatedTopicKeys = []; // ]]> RELATED TOPICS // <![CDATA[ cnnRelatedTopicKeys.push('Alaska'); // ]]> Alaska // <![CDATA[ cnnRelatedTopicKeys.push('Air_Disasters'); // ]]> Air Disasters // <![CDATA[ cnnRelatedTopicKeys.push('Alaska_National_Guard'); // ]]> Alaska National Guard // <![CDATA[ cnnRelatedTopicKeys.push('Air_Travel'); // ]]> Air Travel “We're really putting a lot of the factual information together right now,” Hersman said. “We're certainly looking at weather but everything is on the table right now and we haven't ruled anything out.” She said investigators talked to a physician who spent the night on the hillside with survivors and also spoke to emergency responders as they try to determine what happened leading up to the accident. They plan to interview guests and employees at the lodge from which the people on the plane departed, and speak to people who communicated with those on board the flight, Hersman said. They haven't yet talked to the four survivors, who may owe their lives to the fact that “there was no post-crash fire,” she added. “Right now our first priority is to make sure that they get the medical attention that they need and certainly we'd like to talk to them,” Hersman said. “They'll be able to give us a good picture.” The Alaska Department of Public Safety identified the dead as Stevens, of Anchorage, Alaska; pilot Theron “Terry” Smith, 62, of Eagle River, Alaska; lobbyist William “Bill” Phillips Sr., of the Washington, D.C., area; GCI executive Dana Tindall, 48, of Anchorage, Alaska; and her daughter Corey Tindall, 16, of Anchorage, Alaska. The bodies have been recovered and sent to Anchorage. Injured were William “Willy” Phillips Jr., 13, the son of Bill Phillips Sr.; Sean O'Keefe, 54; his son, Kevin O'Keefe; and lobbyist Jim Morhard, of Alexandria, Virginia. Sean O'Keefe is the former head of NASA. The aircraft, which was taking the group on a fishing trip, crashed around 7 p.m. Monday about 17 miles north of Dillingham in the southwestern area of the state, authorities said. The region, near the Bering Sea southwest of Anchorage, is rugged terrain surrounded by mountains. When the nine people on board had not arrived at a camp on time, the search began. The pilot was not required to file a flight plan, authorities said. Pilots flying over the crash site said the amphibious DeHavilland DHC-Z3T Otter flew into the side of the mountain, which has a 40-degree slope. The pilots didn't think anyone on board could have survived such an accident. The area was so rough and rocky that rescuers airlifted in a physician with a satellite phone, and the doctor had to hike 1,000 feet to reach the site, Hersman said Tuesday. Five volunteers, including some with medical training, assisted and stabilized the survivors overnight, officials said. One of the survivors was outside the fuselage when the doctor arrived. Eric Shade, one of the pilots who found the wreckage, said the plane appeared to have traveled at least 100 feet from the point of impact. “It was pretty smashed,” Shade said. “The wings were laying behind the fuselage on each side. I couldn't see the floats; the floats were underneath it. I couldn't see anything in the front of the airplane. From the window forward … everything was gone.” Shade said the doomed pilot's path didn't appear to make sense, given the location. “When you're flying down low, into stuff like this, you're flying in the hills — in between the hills. You have to know where they're at,” Shade said. “He flew into the side of the mountain. I have no idea how he got there.” // <![CDATA[ var currExpandable = “expand119”; if(typeof CNN.expandableMap === 'object') { CNN.expandableMap.push(currExpandable); } var currExpandableHeight = 436; // ]]> Timeline: Politicians killed in plane crashes // <![CDATA[ if(typeof currExpandable != “string”) { currExpandable = ''; } currExpandableHeight = 436; var mediaObj = new Object(); mediaObj.type = 'flash'; mediaObj.contentId = ''; mediaObj.source = 'http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/interactive/2010/08/us/timeline.politicians.plane.crashes/timeline.swf'; // ]]> // <![CDATA[ mediaObj.lgImage = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('src'); mediaObj.lgImageX = 640; mediaObj.lgImageY = currExpandableHeight; mediaObj.origImageX = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('width'); mediaObj.origImageY = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('height'); mediaObj.contentType = 'interactive'; CNN.expElements.expand119Store = mediaObj; // ]]> // <![CDATA[ var currExpandable = “expand219”; if(typeof CNN.expandableMap === 'object') { CNN.expandableMap.push(currExpandable); } var currExpandableHeight = 436; // ]]> Map: Dillingham, Alaska // <![CDATA[ if(typeof currExpandable != “string”) { currExpandable = ''; } currExpandableHeight = 360; var mediaObj = new Object(); mediaObj.type = 'flash'; mediaObj.contentId = ''; mediaObj.source = 'http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/08/10/map.dillingham.ak.cnn.jpg'; // ]]> // <![CDATA[ mediaObj.lgImage = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('src'); mediaObj.lgImageX = 640; mediaObj.lgImageY = currExpandableHeight; mediaObj.origImageX = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('width'); mediaObj.origImageY = $(currExpandable).select('img.box-image')[0].readAttribute('height'); mediaObj.contentType = 'interactive'; CNN.expElements.expand219Store = mediaObj; // ]]> Kristopher Abel, an Alaska Air National Guard senior airman who arrived over the crash site by helicopter to aid in the rescue effort, described the scene as a “jumbled mess.” “The volunteers who'd gotten there, spent the night there, were frazzled. They were dirty and wet and tired themselves. They had been treating these guys overnight.” Abel told CNN the fuselage of the plane was “surprisingly intact.” It was where “all but one of the survivors and everybody else were located,” he added. Jonathan Davis, another senior airman with the Alaska Air National Guard, said one of the younger survivors was able to leave the plane and “spent the night under the wing” in what he described as a stark crash scene. “There was a scar on the hillside where it (the plane) impacted and skidded up the hill. That was probably about 75 yards long. As we approached the aircraft, you could smell the fuel. The wings were swept back. The engine compartment of the plane had broken off or buried itself into the ground.” Because of its vast size, air travel is common in Alaska, often through perilous weather. “Planes have crashed up here since people started flying up here. People are going to continue to fly. The weather's going to continue to be difficult,” Davis said. Ted Stevens expressed his own fears about Alaskan air travel after a 1978 crash that killed his first wife and four others. “Plane crashes are the occupational hazard of Alaska politics,” Stevens told The Washington Post in 1979. The Post added, “He said he often felt as if one's number had to come up eventually, and even though he had been a fighter pilot in World War II, the prospect of flying around in his campaign frightened him.” In 1972, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs and U.S. Rep. Nick Begich were traveling in a plane that is thought to have crashed in Alaska. It was never found. Nick Begich was the father of one of Alaska's current U.S. senators, Mark Begich. Stevens, 86, was remembered Tuesday as a “lion who retreated before nothing” and for being a guiding light in the formation of the country's 49th state. He was the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate's history and a champion for Alaska. Stevens earned the nickname “Uncle Ted” and a reputation as one of the most effective of all pork-barrel lawmakers, a senator who funneled billions of federal dollars to his home state. His footprint can be seen all over Alaska. In Anchorage, where most people fly into the state, a large sign proclaims “Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.”

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