NTSB: Pilot’s wife says husband seemed normal in telephone calls before fatal Alaska flight

By Mary Pemberton, AP
Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pilot’s wife says he seemed normal before flight

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The wife of the pilot in this week’s deadly Alaska plane crash spoke with her husband by phone several times in the days before the flight and noticed nothing out of the ordinary, the National Transportation Safety Board’s chairwoman said Saturday.

Pilot Theron Smith’s wife told investigators her husband stayed for several days at a corporate lodge in southwest Alaska and she talked to him often by phone, sometimes several times a day, Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at a news conference.

Smith, 62, was flying the float plane from the lodge to a fishing camp with former Sen. Ted Stevens and seven others on board when it crashed into a mountainside Monday about 20 miles north of Dillingham. Stevens and Smith were killed, along with Dana Tindall, 48, of Anchorage; Tindall’s 16-year-old daughter Corey and Bill Phillips, a former Stevens chief of staff.

The cause of the crash hasn’t been determined. Investigators have spoken with two of the four survivors, and one survivor has told officials he didn’t notice any changes in the plane’s pitch or hear any unusual engine sounds right before the plane went down.

Hersman hasn’t identified the survivors who spoke with officials. She said Saturday that the conditions of the other two survivors has prevented investigators from interviewing them.

Former NASA chief Sean O’Keefe, his son, Kevin O’Keefe, Jim Morhard and 13-year-old William “Willy” Phillips Jr. survived the crash.

Investigators are trying to construct the last 72 hours before the crash, and investigators routinely look at whether human fatigue could have been a factor, Hersman said.

Hersman said the badly damaged plane was lifted in pieces from the rugged mountain slope and was laid out on the floor of the hangar in Dillingham, where it awaits examination.

The engine was also in the hangar and was to be transported to a Honeywell International Inc. facility. There, the company that made the engine will perform a “teardown” to look at possible causes of the crash.

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