Sen. Wellstone, family and aides killed in plane crash

U By Erin Madsen and Andrew Pritchard

u.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed Friday morning in a plane crash in northern Minnesota, along with his wife Shelia, daughter Marcia, three campaign aides and two pilots.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration and Wellstone campaign officials, Wellstone was traveling to Eveleth, Minn., Friday to attend a funeral for Frank Rukavina, the father of Democratic state Rep. Tom Rukavina.

The plane crashed at 10:22 a.m., approximately seven miles east of the airport, according to the St. Louis County sheriff’s office. The National Weather Service said the plane crashed in freezing drizzle, with light snow, wind and fog.

The FAA has said that there was nothing out of the ordinary regarding the communication between the plane carrying Wellstone and the receiving airport – Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 175 miles north of the Twin Cities.

The last contact with the pilots was at 10:20 am near Farmington, Minn., FAA officials said, adding that at that time, there were no indications of any problems.

Colin McGinnis, Wellstone’s chief of staff, said at a press conference Friday afternoon that the Department of Transportation had confirmed that the number of the plane which crashed southeast of Eveleth, matched the serial number of that transporting Wellstone.

McGinnis said he was “shocked and saddened” by the crash and subsequent eight deaths and that he would provide additional information as soon as it was received.

McGinnis released the names of the three campaign staffers who were also killed in the crashed: Mary McEvoy, a professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the University, Tom Lapic and Will McLaughlin, a University student. The two pilots have not been identified.

KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities identified the plane as a King Air, which is a twin-engine turboprop made by Raytheon.

The plane was leased by Executive Aviation at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, the station said.

Statements revealing shock and dismay from fellow Washington politicians regarding the sudden death of Wellstone and his family have been quickly distributed throughout the country.

Republican senate candidate Norm Coleman, who had been in a tight race with Wellstone to claim his seat in the Senate, called Wellstone’s death “a terrible, unimaginable tragedy.”

“The entire Wellstone family has been selfless, public servants who embodied the best of Minnesota,” Coleman said.

Congressman Martin Sabo, DFL-Minn., said he too was stunned by Friday’s events.

“I’m sort of numb,” Sabo said. “It’s a real loss for our state and our country.”

“I join all Minnesotans in mourning our great loss,” said Congressman Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. “Minnesota has lost two compassionate and caring public servants. Nobody fought harder for the underdog than Paul and Shelia Wellstone.”

Choking back tears, a Senate colleague expressed his sympathy. “He was such a good man, and his wife too,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, DFL-Vermont.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.