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Stevens plane crash findings still not clear

by Sue Deyoe ~ May 24th, 2011

From Libby Casey in Washington DC – The National Transportation Safety Board says it’s not clear what caused the plane crash that killed former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and four others last August.  Investigators say it’s likely the pilot was “temporarily unresponsive” in the moments before, but exactly why is unknown.

N-T-S-B investigators say it’s easier to RULE OUT causes of the fatal crash than figure out exactly what went wrong.  There are no signs of a mechanical problem, and while one survivor reported white-out conditions, another said the plane remained below cloud-level the whole flight, and local weather reports didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary.

So they don’t know just why pilot Terry Smith took a left turn toward rising terrain.  The highly experienced 62 year-old pilot suffered a stroke four years earlier and had recently retired.  His son in law had just died in an Alaska Air National Guard plane crash…Smith HAD been given a clean bill of health, but the doctor was a pediatrician, and another N-T-S-B investigator, Dr. Mitch Garber, says Smith wasn’t given cognitive testing or risk evaluation for future strokes.

Five people were killed in the crash: pilot Smith, Senator Stevens, Bill Phillips, and Dana and Corey Tindall.

The NTSB recommends installing data or cockpit recorders, which aren’t mandatory on small planes.  It also wants specific requirements for medical clearance after pilots have suffered strokes.  And it wants better weather reporting in Alaska by equipping planes with sensors that can send back information.

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