There must be a number of commercial airline pilots who didn'êt log as many miles as former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who died Monday (Aug. 9) in a plane crash that happened in the southwest part of his home state.
During his four decades as a U.S. senator, Stevens, a former World War II pilot, routinely flew home. I know very well of one such trip. It occurred in July of 1972, when, a year out of college and a month before I started work at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I was a writer and editor at the now-defunct Anchorage Daily Times. My less-demanding professional role was as Alaska correspondent for Reuters, the international news service.
It was in that capacity that I was contacted with little notice to see whether I'êd be able to join Stevens, his aide, and an Associated Press reporter to take a Saturday Lear-jet ride from Anchorage to Alaska'ês North Slope. Seems a news organization in Washington, D.C., had reported that there had been a leak in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, interesting since the construction project wouldn'êt even start until 1974.
Nonetheless, the senator, still just four years into his job, felt obliged to fly home from D.C., cruise up to the slope, and try to assuage those back east who were raising alarms about environmental woes associated with such a project.
We left early Saturday, arrived at the slope midday and duly noted that the 'êleak in the pipeline'ê actually amounted to a small break in a fuel conduit at a sparsely populated construction installation. The discovery of this, of course, allowed Stevens to grandstand when he got back to Washington. The advantage to a (very) young journalist was being afforded a free trip as far north as I'êve ever been — this, and the opportunity to meet perhaps the most powerful person I would encounter until Bill Clinton came to Seattle in 1992.
Stevens, as many pols can be during favorable circumstances, was a delightful companion that day. Despite my lifelong opposition to many of Stevens'ê political beliefs, I was impressed enough with him that day to keep track of his lengthy career.
Consequently, my blood ran cold the day in late 1978 when it was reported that another Lear jet with Stevens aboard had crashed at Anchorage International Airport. The accident killed his wife, Ann, and four others, but the senator survived.
Officials later added 'êTed Stevens'ê to the formal name of the Anchorage airport. In light of this week'ês tragedy, the grim irony of that gesture can'êt be lost on anybody.