Ted Stevens died Monday the way Alaskans die, in a plane crash in the wilds of the state he devoted his life to.
At 86, he was the last giant of statehood and a major architect of the Alaska that emerged from its territorial history.
A U.S. senator for 40 years until his defeat in 2008, Stevens and four others were apparently killed Monday afternoon when a deHavilland Otter, owned by Alaska telecommunications company GCI, slammed into a hill north of Dillingham in bad weather. The group, which included several former Stevens aides and a GCI executive with her daughter, was headed for a fishing lodge owned by GCI. Stevens was a avid fisherman and a regular patron of exclusive fishing lodges in some of the remotest parts of Alaska.
The deHavilland pilot and four passengers died. Four passengers survived.
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It was Stevens' second aircraft tragedy. In 1978, already a senator for 10 years, he narrowly survived a 1978 Learjet crash at Anchorage's international airport, now named for him. His first wife, Ann, and four others died. Stevens, one of two survivors, was seriously injured, raising questions about whether he would be able to continue in office. But he recovered, became a physical fitness buff and served Alaska in the Senate for 30 more years. He married again, to attorney Catherine Bittner, and the couple had a daughter, Lily.
He went on to write laws, fund programs and send home federal money for the buildings, bridges, boats, roads, airports, hospitals and military bases that moved Alaska from the frontier to the mainstream. His constituents called him Uncle Ted and Senator for Life. Even his enemies welcomed his largesse, dished out in federal appropriations that numbered in the tens of thousands and affected almost every Alaskan's life.
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