To much of the nation, Ted Stevens was the crotchety senator who famously referred to the Internet as “a series of tubes” and fought to build the “Bridge to Nowhere.”
But to his constituents in Alaska, he was “Uncle Ted,” the state’s political patriarch who for four decades reliably delivered billions in federal dollars for the highways, pipelines and ports that helped move his sparsely populated state into the future.
The wiry octogenarian was built like a birch sapling, but he liked to encourage comparisons with the Incredible Hulk — an analogy that seemed appropriate for his outsized place in Alaska history.
“Though small of stature, Ted Stevens seemed larger than life, and anybody who knew him, knew him that way, for he built Alaska, and he stood for Alaska, and he fought for Alaskans,” said Gov. Sean Parnell. “Ted was a lion, who retreated before nothing.”
Dan Cuddy and Stevens were young attorneys in Anchorage at the same time, before their careers took them to loftier positions; Cuddy into banking and Stevens into national politics.
“I know few who have believed as much in the idea of Alaska, or who have worked harder to make it a reality,” Cuddy told Petroleum News in an e-mail.
Stevens was killed Aug. 9 in a plane crash in a remote part of the state while on his way to a fishing trip. More than 30 years ago, he survived the crash of a private jet at Anchorage International Airport that killed his first wife, Ann.
Four others also died in the crash outside Dillingham, about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage. Four individuals survived the accident.
‘To hell with politics’Alaskans loved Stevens, even when the pork-barrel proposals he spearheaded became notorious.
“Ted always said, ‘To hell with politics. Do what is best for Alaska.’ He never apologized for fighting for his state, and Alaska is better for it today,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat.
Stevens began his career in the days before Alaska statehood and did not abandon politics until 2008, when he was convicted on corruption charges shortly before Election Day. But a federal judge threw out the verdict because of misconduct by federal prosecutors.
He was appointed in December 1968 and became the longest-serving Republican in Senate history. (The late Strom Thurmond was in the Senate longer than Stevens, but he spent a decade there as a Democrat before switching to the GOP.)
Plane registered to GCIOn the day of the crash, National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said Stevens and his eight companions had eaten lunch at a lodge and boarded a 1957 red-and-white float plane between 3 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. local time for a trip to a salmon fishing camp.
Lodge operators called the fish camp at 6 p.m. to inquire when the party would be returning for dinner, but were told that they never showed up. Civilian aircraft were dispatched, and pilots quickly spotted the wreckage a few miles from the lodge, Hersman said.
The doctor and EMTs were flown to the area and hiked to the wreckage as fog and rain blanketed the area and nightfall set in, making it impossible for rescue officials to reach the scene until daybreak.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the DeHavilland DHC-3T was registered to Anchorage-based General Communications Inc., a phone and Internet company.
The victims were identified as Stevens; pilot Theron “Terry” Smith, 62, of Eagle River; William “Bill” Phillips Sr.; Dana Tindall, 48, an executive with GCI; and her 16-year-old daughter Corey Tindall.
The four survivors were former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe and his teenage son; William “Willy” Phillips Jr., 13; and Jim Morhard, of Alexandria, Va. They were taken to Providence Hospital in Anchorage with “varying degrees of injuries,” Alaska State Troopers said on Aug. 10.
Former NASA spokesman Glenn Mahone said O’Keefe, 54, and his son had broken bones and other injuries.
Sean O’Keefe was listed in critical condition Aug. 12. His son, Kevin O’Keefe, and Morhard were listed in serious condition.
The hospital said the younger Phillips was not listed in its directory, and it wasn’t immediately clear where he was.
Stevens and O’Keefe were fishing companions and longtime Washington colleagues who worked together on the Senate Appropriations Committee that the Republican lawmaker led for several years. Stevens became a mentor to the younger O’Keefe and they remained close friends over the years. Morhard and the elder Phillips also worked with Stevens in Washington.