Funeral Mass for Alaska air crash victim William D. Phillips Sr.

William "Willy" Phillips Jr. is pushed in a wheelchair by a friend after the funeral for Willy's father, William D. Phillips Sr. (Susan Walsh/associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Derek Kravitz
Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Germantown man and former Senate staffer who died this month in an Alaska plane crash was remembered Friday as a towering and gregarious family man who would have been grateful for his youngest son's survival in the accident.

William D. "Bill" Phillips Sr., 56, a lawyer and lobbyist at the D.C. law firm of Utrecht & Phillips, was killed Aug. 9 when the plane carrying him and eight others crashed into a remote hillside northwest of Dillingham, Alaska. The group, including former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), had set out on a salmon fishing trip in a 1957 DeHavilland floatplane.

Phillips was traveling with his 13-year-old son, William "Willy" Phillips Jr., who was among four survivors. Willy, an eighth-grader at Mater Dei School in Bethesda, attended Friday's funeral in a wheelchair and had casts on his left arm and left leg. He didn't speak at the service at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Potomac, and he followed his father's coffin out of the church with his mother, Janet Phillips, while holding her hand.

Phillips's three older sons spoke. Andrew Phillips, a fifth-year senior at Stanford University, said his father died as he lived: "with no frills and no presumptions." He also praised brother Willy for "acting like a hero."

"Willy, the way you acted under these circumstances is truly phenomenal," Andrew said.

Phillips's three older sons are all Division I football players and Georgetown Preparatory School graduates. Colter is a sophomore at the University of Virginia, and Paul is a freshman at Indiana University. The schedules for the three college teams were included in the back of the funeral program with a message from the family encouraging people to attend their games.

Hundreds crowded into the church for the two-hour service, in which mourners described Phillips as an avid fisherman and football fan who loved to drive fast and travel to the Alaskan wilderness. During the service, the hymn "Two Fishermen" was played, and those who eulogized Phillips noted his love for family fishing expeditions. Mourners said that when they heard Phillips was in a plane crash, they thought the 6-foot-7 former college football player would survive.

"When we got word of the accident, I kept thinking to myself that he was so big and strong that he had to have survived," said Greg Chapados, a friend of Phillips's and a former Stevens staffer. "He didn't . . . but Willy helped those who had survived through the night." The Phillips family said that Willy broke his leg jumping from the wreckage and that he comforted other survivors.

Former Alaska attorney general Gregg Renkes also spoke at the funeral Mass, and he gave credit to Phillips for pushing him to resign from the office in 2005 while he battled allegations that he had profited improperly from an international trade deal.

"Bill told me to resign and that it was the best for my family," Renkes said. "I didn't want to. I wanted to fight it and hold on, but it was the right decision."

Others who died in the plane crash were Stevens, 86; pilot Theron "Terry" Smith, 62; Dana Tindall, 48, an executive with the company that owned the plane; and Tindall's daughter, Corey Tindall, 16.

The survivors include lobbyist Jim Morhard, 54, of Arlington County; former NASA head Sean O'Keefe, 53; and O'Keefe's son, Kevin O'Keefe, both of Ashburn.

Phillips served as Stevens's legislative director and chief of staff from 1981 to 1986. Phillips's specialty at his Washington-based firm was legislative law and congressional procedure, and he had experience in several public policy areas, including economic regulation, transportation, energy and national defense.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company