August 11, 2010

R.I.P. Ted Stevens

I'm just now catching up with the news of the death of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens in a float-plane crash near Dillingham, AK.

Chilling stuff.

As it happens, I've flown into the Dillingham airport myself, albeit in a commercial 737 jet. Back when I was there (this would have been in the very early 80's), the runway was not paved and the jet - flown by Wein Air Alaska, which seems to have folded a while back - had some kind of modification to keep gravel from getting into the engines. Wein flew out once a day from Anchorage to King Salmon, from KS over to Dillingham and then from Dillingham back to Anchorage. The flight from KS to Dillingham is easily the shortest I've ever been on. 15 minutes tops and I don't think we cleared 5000 feet.

As it also happens, I've flown around that area in the very kind of plane - a De Havilland DHC-3T, knicknamed the "Otter" - involved in Sen. Stevens' crash. Indeed, probably my nastiest flying experience evah was when a storm front caught us flying back from a remote river to the Katmai Park lodge. We had to go through several mountain passes and were buffeted all over the place. It's the only time I ever literally fell to my knees on the ground once we arrived safe and sound and thanked God for my preservation.

Indeed, my old father was involved in a crash himself in that same Otter a year or two later. My brother and I had been left at the base lodge while he and some friends hopped across to another lake to fish. When it came time to leave, the pilot, a mere teenager, forgot to lower his flaps on take off. The plane failed to make height, stalled, and fell down into the marshy tundra at the edge of the lake. Fortunately, it didn't blow up or anything, and everyone was able to crawl out pretty much unscathed.

Including the kid flying, there were six men on that flight. Dad, who was the youngest passenger, had a private pilot's licence. All of the other four had flown in WWII, and two of them were still with TWA. Apparently, the only chance of a fatality that day was when the senior guy, who had flown umpteen combat missions in a B-25 bomber over Europe and then flown commercially almost 40 years without a single mishap, tried to get his hands on the kid for the purpose of ripping him into little shreds for the stupidity of his error.

At any rate, as noted in some of teh press reports, tooling about that part of teh word in that kind of vehicle is dangerous, and things do happen sometimes.

Posted by Robert at August 11, 2010 11:40 AM | TrackBack

According to the Judge that Justin clerked for up there, most of the lawyers who arrived in Fairbanks when he did were no longer among the living thanks to airplane crashes. I remember it seeming that there were reports of crashes far too frequently, though I was also amazed by how many were walked away from.

People up there are kind of crazy though. A guy we went to church with would work on his little plane, which looked to be held together with duct tape and then, not really sure that he'd fixed a problem, would take it up in the air to see how things were working.

Posted by: Jordana at August 11, 2010 04:12 PM
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