Survivor of 1978 Crash

By Dave Donaldson

While the National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation of last week’s airplane crash that took the life of former Senator Ted Stevens,  many reports have centered on the crash at the Anchorage International Airport in 1978 that took the life of Stevens’ wife, Ann.

Five people were killed, but Stevens was one of two survivors.
The other was Tony Motley, a friend of Stevens since 1967 when Stevens was Majority Leader of the State House of Representatives and Motley worked for the Commanding General of the Alaskan Command. Motley later served as Commissioner of Commerce during Jay Hammond’s first term. He also worked alongside Stevens on getting ANILCA  through Congress.

They remained friends – through Ted Stevens’ career in the U-S Senate and Motley’s years as U-S Ambassador to Brazil and, then, Assistant Secretary of State.  He says the memories of that crash remained with them both.

You know that had a huge impact on his life obviously. Losing his wife is something most of us can’t fathom.  So it’s no doubt it had an effect on him.  But I wouldn’t say … it didn’t affect him in a negative way, I don’t think.  I don’t think he was morose.  I think if anything it may have affected him in a positive way.

As one effect,  Motley cites a sharper focus that Stevens developed for aviation safety.  Stevens was already a pilot and already interested in safety.  But as a Senator he could do something about the issue – and he did.

Except for the years that Motley was overseas, he and Stevens had lunch together –just the two of them – on the anniversary of the crash.  He calls it a “ritual.”

We would have just an ordinary lunch, have small talk and gossip about the local politics at the time. It was a pleasant, pleasant … it wasn’t maudlin at all. It was just a pleasant encounter and we were both glad to be alive.

Seven people were on that Lear Jet in December of 1978 — returning to Anchorage from Juneau where they had just attended Jay Hammond’s second inauguration.  He said – as in the crash last week – there was no indication of any problem as the plane was landing.  Motley was facing backwards and could see the stripes on the runway – that’s how close they were to safety.

We must have been hit by a wind shear because all of a sudden one wing goes up — the right wing went up, the left wing went down – a gust of wind. In the process of straitening the wings out,  the left edge of the wing hit the runway. But it didn’t arrest the path of flight – the airplane kept going forward.  It didn’t skew it.  The pilot at that point elected to put the power to it and go around.  And he had what is knows as a power-on stall.  There’s only one result from that, the airplane will snap one way or the other – left or right depending on the make of the airplane.  But that’s the only thing it will do.  It flipped.  It landed between the runways in snow.  The first impact took the tale and the engines off, and then it took one wing off and then the other wing and it slid under the snow upside down.

Motley awoke in the dark airplane.  He and Stevens were hospitalized – Motley in Intensive Care, Stevens with a concussion and other injuries.


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