Tapes recount drama of crash response

AP News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2010 9:16 PM
Tapes recount drama of crash response

Radio transmissions released by the Federal Aviation Administration show snippets of the frantic rescue efforts that unfolded after a floatplane slammed into a remote mountainside in southwest Alaska, killing former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and four others.

At one point, a pilot surveying the wreckage urged an FAA flight operator to get a rescue helicopter to the steep slope "immediately, immediately, fast." Another pilot said survivors would be exceedingly difficult to reach by foot because a private helicopter had to land 500 feet above the crash site in the rugged terrain.

"I don't know that they're going to able to get anybody up the hill if they're seriously injured. We really need a really real search-and-rescue helicopter out here with medical personnel if there's any way we can do that a-sap," he said.

The three hours of recorded transmissions were obtained by The Associated Press through a records request regarding the Aug. 9 crash north of Dillingham.

Conversations were redacted in some places, so there are gaps in the chain of events that culminated in the rescue of four survivors, including former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe and his 19-year-old son, Kevin O'Keefe.

Moments into the recording, the worried manager of a corporate lodge hosting the 86-year-old Stevens and other guests called the Dillingham flight operator, Carl Lang, to report the 1957 DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter plane had failed to show up at a remote fishing camp. At the time of the call, the single-engine Otter was almost four hours overdue.

The lodge manager, David Roseman, said he would make one more call and get back to Lang shortly. By the time he called back about 15 minutes later, Lang had begun asking local pilots to check the half-hour route between the lodge and camp.

"I wonder if, ah, if we could go ahead and put a search and rescue into effect," Roseman said.

For almost an hour, local pilots found no sign of the aircraft. Then the lines crackled with the first concrete news.

"Yes, I've got coordinates on the downed aircraft," said the pilot of a plane registered to Ron Duncan, president of General Communication Inc., the phone and Internet company that owned the lodge and the Otter. In the plane with Duncan was his wife, Anchorage-based pediatrician Dani Bowman, who wanted to reach the site herself to tend to the injured survivors.

"The helicopter has the wreckage in sight, says there's at least one survivor waving at them," Duncan radioed 10 minutes later. "Any update on what's happening with search and rescue?"

"I called 911. We're trying to get additional air service out there," Lang said.

Also joining in the effort were the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and Alaska State Troopers.

O'Keefe said in interviews aired on NBC's "Today" show last week that Stevens _ an Alaska icon and the longest serving Republican in Senate history _ was already dead when O'Keefe regained consciousness after the crash. Survivors waited among the dead for hours as bad weather prevented rescuers from reaching the wreckage until early the next morning, he said.

The others killed in the crash were pilot Theron Smith, GCI executive Dana Tindall and her 16-year-old daughter, Corey Tindall, and lobbyist William "Bill" Phillips Sr., whose 13-year-old son, Willy Phillips, survived. The other survivor is lobbyist Jim Morhard.