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Waving hand was first clue of Alaska crash survivors

DILLINGHAM, Alaska — A pilot who spotted the wreckage of the amphibious plane carrying former Sen. Ted Stevens looked down on the gashed mountainside and thought no one could've survived such a crash.

Then, he heard another pilot say on the radio: A hand was waving for help from a window of the red-and-white aircraft.

"It surprised me because I didn't think it was survivable," said Eric Shade, 48, owner of Shannon's Air Taxi.

The discovery set in a motion a frantic rescue effort that culminated when National Guardsmen had the four dazed survivors, suffering from broken bones and other injuries, airlifted off the mountain. Five others, including the state's most revered politician, were dead.

The cause of the crash was being investigated on Wednesday as National Transportation Safety Board officials hiked to the scene and began examining the wreckage, chairwoman Deborah Hersman said. They had hoped to interview the survivors Wednesday in the hospital but their medical conditions made it impossible.

Officials said a technology that Stevens had long pushed to improve air safety in Alaska wasn't installed in the downed plane.

It was unclear whether the instruments would have prevented Monday's crash.

Stevens, 86, had close ties to everyone on the plane, including Anchorage-based General Communications Inc., a phone and Internet company that owned the aircraft, and the lodge where the passengers were staying.

GCI executive Dana Tindall, who died in the crash, testified in 2002 that Stevens and William "Bill" Phillips Sr., who also died in the wreck, once arranged for a staff member to travel to the lodge to learn about the telecommunications world as GCI looked to expand its business.

"We entertain business associates. We entertain — there have been FCC commissioners out there. And there have been members of the United States Congress out there," Tindall told lawmakers.

Stevens and ex-NASA chief Sean O'Keefe, who was also on the plane and survived, were fishing companions and longtime Washington colleagues.

Phillips and Jim Morhard, who survived the crash, also worked with him in Washington. Morhard founded a lobbying firm. Phillips was a lobbyist.

Waving hand was first clue of Alaska crash survivors 08/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 28, 2011 2:41pm]

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