Wellstone Crash Investigated -
Replacement Pondered

By Todd Melby

EVELETH, Minn. (Reuters) - The plane that carried Minnesota U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and seven others to their deaths was off the normal approach path when it crashed, safety investigators said Saturday, though it was not clear if that was a factor in the accident.
The announcement came as state Democratic Party officials moved to get a replacement for Wellstone on the ballot 10 days before crucial congressional elections. They said no names had been officially discussed and they would not hold a meeting until after funeral arrangements had been made for the two-term senator.
Acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Carol Carmody said the twin-engine turboprop was "90 degrees off routine approach" -- in other words not facing right on the runway -- as it approached the tiny country airfield 135 miles north of Minneapolis in snow and freezing temperatures Friday.
She declined to say if the aircraft's position might have played a role in the instrument landing crash short of the runway but said a witness who lived near the airport reported seeing the plane sounding louder than usual, about 95 feet off the ground and "crabbing to the right" or trying to reposition shortly before it crashed.
She also said the plane carried neither a cockpit voice recorder nor a flight data recorder which could offer clues.
The crash added still more uncertainty to the Nov. 5 congressional elections. Democrats controlled the U.S. Senate by only one vote before Wellstone's death. Thirty-four of the 100 seats are up in the November election and Wellstone's was one the Democrats were counting on to hold to their slim edge.
"There has been no discussion of what name will appear on the ballot," state party chairman Mike Erlandson said in St. Paul.
"We are not picking a candidate until after funeral arrangements have been made," he added at news conference. The bodies were being recovered from the crash site Saturday and no funeral arrangements had been announced. Officials said it would be Sunday before all remains are removed from the charred fuselage
Leading the list of possible replacements was former vice president Walter Mondale, 74. Also mentioned were Wellstone's son, David, Alan Page, a former football star who is now a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, and two House members, Reps. James Oberstar and Martin Sabo.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kissmeier told a news conference Saturday that voters will get two ballots on election day -- one that has the former Senate ticket crossed out and a second, separate ballot for Senate only, containing the name of Wellstone's replacement and his opponents.
She said Democrats will have to file the name of their new candidate by the close of business on Oct. 31. Attorney General Mike Hatch, meanwhile, said Minnesota law does not allow a dead person to run for office -- eliminating any possibility, however remote, that the party might put his name on the replacement ballot.
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent, said on Saturday he was "inclined" to name an interim replacement for Wellstone, probably a Democrat. That person would serve only until the winner of the Nov. 5 election is certified -- probably a few weeks after the election.
He also said it seemed to be "unfair" that absentee ballots already cast for Wellstone will now not count though ones for his Republican opponent, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, will.
Wellstone, 58, was an unapologetic flag-waver for the left in American politics at a time when few like him remain on the national scene. He was seeking a third term, despite an earlier promise that he would only serve two, and was locked in a tight race with Coleman.
Also killed in the crash were Wellstone's wife Sheila, 58, and daughter Marcia, 33, a high school Spanish teacher and mother and stepmother of four children, campaign staff members Will McLaughlin, 23, Tom Lapic, 49, and Mary McEvoy, 49, as well as pilots Richard Conry, 50 and Michael Guess, 30.
The Wellstones, who also had two sons, had been headed to northern Minnesota for a funeral.
The plane was operated by Executive Aviation of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, which said the Beechcraft King Air 100, built in 1978, was last inspected on Aug. 28 and "the inspection was normal and uncovered no problems."


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