Wellstone's death revives memories for Stevens

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone's death in a plane crash has revived memories for Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

Stevens lost a colleague in Congressman Nick Begich when the Democrat died in the 1972 plane crash somewhere between Anchorage and Juneau. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana also died in the wreck.

Six years later, Stevens survived a 1978 plane crash that killed his wife, Ann, and four other people.

Stevens on Friday spoke of Wellstone, a staunch liberal who had died hours earlier when his campaign plane crashed in northern Minnesota. The senator also talked of the uneasy relationship between politicians -- especially in Alaska -- and air travel.

The 78-year-old senator, a World War II pilot, had just returned from flights to Homer, Cordova, Valdez and Fairbanks. He was due to board another plane for Kodiak Friday afternoon, and he flies to Nome and Little Diomede Island next week.

Stevens tries to fly in twin-engine planes with two pilots aboard, but he said he considers every flight a 50-50 proposition.

''Every time you go up, there's a chance you won't come down,'' he said.

Stevens told reporters he admired Wellstone.

Wellstone would make it clear he disagreed with you, Stevens said. ''Then he'd smile and talk about fishing.''

Wellstone was one of the Senate's most passionate voices against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He filibustered against ANWR drilling at the start of his Senate career in 1991 and was one of several senators who pledged to filibuster it again earlier this year.

Alaska Rep. Don Young won his House seat in a special election in 1973 after Begich was declared legally dead. Begich actually got more votes than Young the November before, after the plane crash.

In a strange twist to the Wellstone tragedy, Begich was born in Eveleth, Minn. Wellstone's plane crashed Friday near Eveleth.

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