The 86-year-old Stevens' death stunned lawmakers and residents alike because of his pre-eminence in Alaska history: A decorated World War II pilot who survived a deadly 1978 plane crash, he was the longest-serving GOP senator in history and became the patron saint of Alaska politics as he brought billions of federal dollars home.
One failed effort -- the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" -- became part of his national legacy, as did corruption convictions that helped foil his 2008 campaign after 40 years in office. The case was later tossed out.
"He is one of the real giants," said Paul Brown, a consultant who was having lunch at an outdoor cafe in Anchorage. "He dedicated his life to this state."
Investigators with the NTSB arrived late Tuesday at the crash site outside Dillingham, located on Bristol Bay about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage. The cause was not immediately known, but weather is one area investigators will examine.
The flights at Dillingham are often perilous through the mountains, even in good weather. NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said weather conditions at the time of the accident included light rain, clouds and gusty winds.
Hersman said the group had eaten lunch at a lodge and boarded a 1957 red-and-white float plane between 3 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. local time for a trip to a salmon fishing camp. The FAA had previously said the plane took off between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Lodge operators called the fish camp at 6 p.m. to inquire when the party would be returning for dinner, but were told that they never showed up. Civilian aircraft were dispatched, and pilots quickly spotted the wreckage a few miles from the lodge, Hersman said.
The doctor and EMTs were flown to the area and hiked to the wreckage as fog and rain blanketed the area and nightfall set in, making it impossible for rescue officials to reach the scene until daybreak.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the 1957 DeHavilland DHC-3T was registered to Anchorage-based General Communications Inc., a phone and Internet company.
Four survivors were taken to Providence Hospital in Anchorage with "varying degrees of injuries," Alaska State Troopers said. Former NASA spokesman Glenn Mahone said O'Keefe, 54, and his son had broken bones and other injuries.
Sean O'Keefe was listed in critical condition late Tuesday afternoon, while son Kevin was listed in serious condition and sleeping. "There's no way he can talk in his condition," Providence Hospital spokesman John Hogue said of the younger O'Keefe.
The other survivors were William "Willy" Phillips Jr., 13; and Jim Morhard, of Alexandria, Va.
The victims were identified as Stevens; pilot Theron "Terry" Smith, 62, of Eagle River; William "Bill" Phillips Sr.; Dana Tindall, 48, an executive with GCI; and her 16-year-old child Corey Tindall.
Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the troopers, said that the bodies have been recovered and were being taken to Anchorage.
Stevens and O'Keefe were fishing companions and longtime Washington colleagues who worked together on the Senate Appropriations Committee that the Republican lawmaker led for several years. Stevens became a protege to the younger O'Keefe and they remained close friends over the years.
Plane crashes in Alaska are somewhat common because of the treacherous weather and mountainous terrain. Many parts of the state are not accessible by roads, forcing people to travel by air to reach their destinations.
Stevens was one of two survivors in a 1978 plane crash at Anchorage International Airport that killed his wife, Ann, and several others.
In a similar accident by another GCI-owned plane, an amphibious, float-equipped Havilland plane flipped after landing on Lake Nerka in 2002. The pilot drowned and a passenger was injured. The plane was landing on the lake in front of the lodge when the accident occurred.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the state had lost a hero and "I lost a dear friend," praising his service during World War II. He flew cargo planes over "the hump" in the Himalayas and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.