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No Cause Cited in Documents About Crash That Killed Stevens

Recently released documents detailing the plane crash that killed former Sen. Ted Stevens offer new insights into the accident but do not point to a specific cause.

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board released to the public hundreds of pages from its investigation of the Aug. 9, 2010, crash that killed the Alaska Republican and four other passengers. The accident docket includes factual reports on a wide range of topics such as the weather, aircraft performance and the pilot’s medical history.

The NTSB will offer an analysis of the findings — including probable cause — at a public board meeting on May 24.

Stevens and his fellow passengers were traveling to a fishing camp when their plane crashed north of Dillingham in southwest Alaska. The NTSB estimates the accident occurred about 15 minutes into the flight.

According to the NTSB reports, there is “solid indication that the airplane was not cruising at impact, but was climbing and maneuvering,” which suggests the pilot was in control when the plane crashed.

The passengers who died with Stevens were pilot Theron “Terry” Smith, lobbyist Bill Phillips, General Communication Inc. executive Dana Tindall and Tindall’s 16-year-old daughter, Corey.

The four survivors were former NASA chief and Stevens’ friend Sean O’Keefe; his 19-year-old son, Kevin; D.C. lobbyist Jim Morhard and Phillips’ 13-year-old son, Willy.

The files examine the medical history of Smith, who suffered a stroke in 2006 and was grounded for two years before receiving clearance to fly again in 2008. Additionally, the files note that in Smith’s applications for medical certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration after the stroke, he did not report his visits to a naturopathic practitioner in September 2008 for a facial twitch on his left side that had begun before his stroke and would worsen with stress or fatigue.

The medical report also revealed that Smith’s New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority application for a medical certification from March 2009 did not offer the pilot’s personal or family history of intracerebral hemorrhage and “specifically denied any history of stroke.”

Many of Smith’s colleagues who were interviewed spoke highly of Smith’s abilities as a pilot, according to the files.

Toxicology reports released showed that examiners detected no drugs or carbon monoxide in his blood. Like all the victims, the autopsy reports determined blunt force trauma as Smith’s cause of death.

In the report’s interviews, no survivors say they noticed anything amiss prior to the accident. Additionally, in the aircraft performance assessment, the report suggests nothing was mechanically wrong with the plane. The weather had been rainy and dreary, but according to survivor accounts, not particularly remarkable.

The probe into the crash will continue and additional materials will be added to the docket, the NTSB stated in a press release.

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