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The Waiting: Survivors of the Ted Stevens plane crash in Alaska wondered if help would reach them in time

Former senator Ted Stevens's plane crashed, killing five passengers. The four who survived would spend 18 hours waiting for rescue in the wilds of Alaska.

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By Ashley Halsey III and Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dillingham, Alaska --

The mountain snapped the five-foot aluminum strut like a hard-bent twig. The metal sliced through the plane's thin skin, shrieked into the cabin for a split second and mowed through everything in its way.

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And then there was silence.

The complete and profound quiet of a spot on Earth never once touched by mankind and never likely to be touched again. Now a tiny red plane hung on the mountainside like a slapped mosquito, one wing askew, its engine buried in the mud.

The low-hanging scud that shrouds Alaska in summertime began to lay down its blanket. The rain that had for days made mud soup of the mountain slope turned its insistent sting against the plane's twisted hull.

Emerging from his haze, Sean O'Keefe felt a bizarre sensation in his mouth. Like chewing on gravel without taking a bite. He explored that mystery with his tongue until it registered: His mouth was awash with his own broken teeth.

We crashed.

The plane, full mostly of men and boys, fathers and sons, poker buddies on a fishing trip into the exotic and remote wilderness, had crashed without hint of warning, everything ripped from its rightful place and hurled forward into a single mangled heap of living and dead.

O'Keefe was still buckled in an uprooted seat, facing forward and down, as though kneeling over a church communion rail. His head was gashed, and his legs were pinned in the grip of coolers, bags of clothing and who knew what else. He felt the weight of a body heavy on him. After a moment, perhaps two, the body stirred. It was Jim Morhard.

"What's hurting on you?" Morhard asked.

"I think I've got broken ribs and what all else?" O'Keefe said.

Morhard slid off him, and O'Keefe glanced to his right at Bill Phillips, whose seat had catapulted forward from the rear. No question he was dead. O'Keefe reached for a pulse, and found none.


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