Image: Aircraft accident site near Aleknagik, Alaska
NTSB
The National Transportation Safety Board released this photograph of the plane accident site where a plane crashed near Aleknagik, Alaska, killing five of the nine people aboard.
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updated 8/13/2010 9:33:52 PM ET 2010-08-14T01:33:52

The float plane that crashed in southwest Alaska this week, killing former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and four others, was equipped with technology meant to alert the pilot if he was headed dangerously toward terrain.

But National Transporation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at a news conference Friday that it still isn't clear whether the system was on or working at the time of Monday's crash.

It wasn't the technology that Stevens himself had championed to help improve air safety in Alaska.

Investigators continued their search for answers Friday, including conducting interviews with two of the four survivors and working to bring the wreckage off the hillside for closer inspection.

The float plane crashed Monday en route from a lodge to a southwest Alaska fishing camp.

Camp guide Byron Orth said the lodge called guides to let them know the party was heading to the Nushagak River camp. But when no one showed up, Orth figured the trip had been canceled. Hours later, the lodge called and asked if the group was returning yet.

Orth, a Beaverton, Ore., resident who has spent the past six summers working at the fish camp, said people at the camp and lodge feared the worst had happened.

"You're hoping for the best, but there's a bad feeling in your stomach," he said.

Stevens' daughter said her father, a pilot in World War II, was an advocate of making planes safe.

"He loved flying ... he got certified to fly floatplanes just a few years ago," Lily Stevens Becker said Friday on the "TODAY" show. "He had no concerns about flying in Alaska, but he was concerned about making planes as safe as possible."

Hersman has said the plane lacked a technology Stevens had championed, technology intended to allow pilots to see cockpit displays, concise weather information and location of other aircraft in the area. But she said it had a "nicely equipped" cockpit and that investigators were still trying to get a sense for all the equipment on board.

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Video: NTSB examines wreckage from Alaska crash

  1. Closed captioning of: NTSB examines wreckage from Alaska crash

    >>> national transportation safety board investigators were finally able to retrieve the wreckage of that plane crash that killed former alaska senator ted stevens and four others on monday. now comes the painstaking process of trying to reconstruct all the factors and circumstances that led to the crash. nbc's miguel almiguere is in anchorage tonight. migu miguel , good evening to you.

    >> reporter: federal investigators are said to have ruled out a potential mechanical problem for the reason to the crash and they're one step closer to figuring out why it went down. late this afternoon, investigators from the ntsb brought back pieceses. from the crash site 20 miles away in the remote mountains of southwest alaska . the wreckage of the float plane will be examined in detail. one question investigators have, why a state-of-the-art emergency beacon like this one failed to send a signal. that would have helped rescuers locate the downed plane sooner. two investigators who hiked to the crash scene combed the debris field which spans 100 yards, looking for clue tops the krarn.

    >> crash.

    >> we're gathering information on the operator as well as the pilot, the pilot's records and experience.

    >> reporter: flying through the fog and rain, the de havilland float plane went down roughly 15 minutes after it was airborne. five of the nine people on board were killed, likely on impact says the medical examiner. david tindal took this photograph the day before they both died. stevens and his group were in their element headed to a fishing camp. his daughter, lily, says flying in remote regions of alaska is dangerous but the former senator enjoyed being in the air.

    >> i grew up flying on small planes around the state with my dad and had great memories with him in the air, and you know, sometimes i would sit in the co-pilot seat.

    >> reporter: of the four survivors, willie phillips is the youngest at 13. rescuers found the boy outside the fuselage under a wing, close to his father, bill phillips , who did not survive. all four survivors are expected to fully recover, and investigators need their account of the crash to help determine what went wrong. as is standard procedure, the ntsb is said to be reviewing the pilot, terry smith 's background and his flying experience during his some three decadeles a pilot, he's had "minor incidents incidents." the ntsb believes weather played a factor.

    >> miguel almaguer thank you so

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