Ted Stevens, the former US Senator who for years reigned as the dominant and most beloved political power in Alaska, was killed in a light aircraft accident yesterday, a family spokesman confirmed last night. Sometimes known to Alaskans as "Uncle Ted", he was believed to be one of five people killed in the crash. Another four were injured.
The politician, 86, who survived a plane crash in 1978 that killed his wife, is believed to have been part of a salmon fishing party on board a DeHavilland DHC-3T Otter seaplane which came down near the remote town of Dillingham at about 7pm on Monday. All four of the survivors were hurt, two seriously.
Rescue workers battled severe weather and heavy fog to get to the scene of the accident, which is only accessible via air. They were unable to provide details of what may have caused the crash. There was confusion for several hours over whether Mr Stevens, whose political career came to a dramatic end amid scandal in 2008, was among the dead.
A five-person medical team was airlifted to the scene via helicopter on Monday night, and was reported to be providing on-site treatment to the victims. Sean O'Keefe, the former head of Nasa who now runs the aerospace and defence firm Eads, is also believed to have been on board.
"The private aircraft crashed en route to its final destination," said a spokesman for Eads yesterday. "Local authorities have said there are survivors and that there is a rescue operation under way. No other details are available at this time."
Mr Stevens, who was first appointed to the US Senate in 1968, remained in office for 40 years, becoming the longest-serving Republican Senator in history in the process, but also making his name synonymous with some of the excesses of Alaskan politics.
He was famously adept at channelling public money to the State, and used his chairmanship of the Senate's powerful appropriations committee to approve the notorious "Bridge to Nowhere" which, at a price of $450m (£285m), connected an island with only 50 inhabitants to the mainland.
In 2008, Mr Stevens was indicted by a federal grand jury for failing to report the fact that the founder of a local oil company, which had benefited heavily from his time in office, had agreed to pay for $250,000-worth of remodelling to his home in Girdwood, Alaska. He was convicted on corruption charges later that year, and shortly afterwards lost his Senate seat to Mark Begich, the Democratic former mayor of Anchorage.
However a federal judge later dismissed the case, citing prosecutorial misconduct.
Monday's accident was the third recent light aircraft crash in Alaska.