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Hearts across the country go out to the survivors, and to the family and friends of those who died in the tragic airplane crash that claimed the lives of former Senator “Uncle Ted” Stevens and four others on their way to a remote fishing lodge near Dillingham, Alaska August 9.

According to Deborah Hersman, spokesperson for the National Transportation and Safety Board, www.ntsb.gov, the float plane, a 1957 De Havilland DHC-3T, owned by GCI Communications, Inc., was outfitted with an alert system that should have warned the pilot of dangerous terrain; and was also equipped with an emergency locator transmitter that should have issued a distress signal to a control tower via satellite. It is unclear, Hersman stated, in a 08/13/10 Anchorage news conference, whether the alert system was working, or why the distress signal did not activate. The investigation will likely continue for some time.

Meantime the families of all involved need to know certain things. First, they have personal injury and wrongful death claims including, but not limited to: (a) lost wages; (b) medical bills; and (c) pain and suffering. Depending on the injuries, or death of loved ones, these claims can be very large and are worth pursuing. No, money cannot restore life. However, it can help provide a means for survivors to pick up the pieces of their lives and carry on. Despite any temptation to settle quickly with insurers, the parties should not sign anything without legal representation.

Second, under Alaska Law AS 09.10.070, the parties involved have only two years to pursue these claims. This is a very important deadline. It does not mean the parties should wait until two years is up before pursuing action. Rather, the families involved should take immediate action.

Third, they do not have to deal with the insurers and the myriad of other legal matters alone. Rather, they should contact a good personal injury and wrongful death attorney and get them and their professional staff on the case post-haste. They can access the lawyer referral service of the Alaska Bar Association at www.alaskabar.org, or phone them at 1-800-770-9999 in Alaska, or 907-272-0352 outside Alaska.

Finally, they may take solace in knowing that many hearts and prayers do indeed go out to them in this time of great loss.

We wish them well.

Ward Merdes

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