Intense fire after Wellstone plane crash

Oct. 26, 2002 at 8:29 PM
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EVELETH, Minn., Oct. 26 (UPI) -- An intense fire occurred after Sen. Paul Wellstone's twin-engine, turboprop plane crashed on Minnesota's Iron Range, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday.

The crash Friday killed all eight people aboard, including Wellstone, his wife and his daughter, amid a heated re-election battle seen as key to the Democrats retaining control of the U.S. Senate.

"There's evidence of an intense post-crash fire," Carol Carmody, NTSB acting chairwoman, told reporters. She said only the tail section was intact, and the plane did not carry a cockpit voice recorder.

Such a device could have provided key data in explicating the cause of the crash in light snow, freezing drizzle and fog near Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 180 miles northeast of Minneapolis. But a cockpit voice recorder wasn't required for that type of aircraft.

It could take months to determine the cause of the crash, and the terrain of the marshy, wooded area makes that task harder, Carmody said.

Wellstone, 58, a liberal Democrat, was seen as a champion of the little guy, fighting for a higher minimum wage, affordable health care and other issues important to working people. He stuck to his principles and in his latest controversial act voted against authorizing military action against Iraq -- the only incumbent senator in a tight race to do so.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete, and state Democratic party officials said a decision on Wellstone's replacement on the ballot would not be made until services are scheduled.

Counting Wellstone's seat, Democrats held control of the Senate by just one seat.

Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, 74, is seen as the party's likely choice to run against Republican Norm Coleman. Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, immediately suspended all campaign activities.

Although Mondale has not publicly commented on the race, The New York Times reported Saturday that Mondale associates indicated that he would probably re-enter politics.

The Times took note of Mondale's speech to the Senate on Sept. 4:

"My Senate years were the happiest of my political career," he said. "I found my sweet spot here. I loved working with friends and colleagues. I loved learning new things. I loved watching my colleagues do their stuff. It reminded me of what Mark Twain once said: that politicians either grow, or they swell.' Eighteen hours a day, every day, it was like mainlining human culture."

At the time of the crash, Wellstone was en route to the funeral of a friend in Eveleth, a town of 4,000 and home to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. He had been scheduled to appear in a debate Friday night with Coleman in Duluth, about 60 miles away.

Accolades to Wellstone continued to pour in, and well-wishers left flowers and other tokens Saturday outside his campaign headquarters in St. Paul.

Wellstone was praised by colleagues for courage in his public and personal life. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

For some insight into Wellstone, one might recall what he said when he fought the impeachment of President Clinton.

"You know, I'm a political scientist, a teacher by background. There's no proportionality here," Wellstone said at the time.

"I think what people in the country are saying, we know the president has not been truthful and we know he had an affair. But does this constitute a threat to our freedom and liberty in the country? The answer is no. This shouldn't have come to the Senate."

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