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Ted Stevens crash survivor details ordeal

Jim Morhard survived the crash that claimed the lives of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and four others.
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Last August, former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and eight other people were flying deep in Alaska on a fishing trip.

For reasons still unknown, the plane made a sudden sharp maneuver, then crashed into the thick Alaskan wilderness.

No definitive cause found in Ted Stevens crash

Sen. Stevens, the pilot and three other passengers died on impact.

Among the four survivors: former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe and a close colleague of the senator's, Jim Morhard.

On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board released its findings on the cause of the crash, suggesting the pilot's history of medical problems may have contributed to the crash.

After the hearing, Morhard spoke for the first time about the crash and a long and terrifying night in the wilderness.

Morhard told CBS News, "There were a number of us that just enjoyed fishing, and we certainly enjoyed fishing with Sen. Stevens. We had the opportunity to go up to Alaska to fish for silver salmon. Everybody else got their fishing gear on we got into the plane and took off and, I'd say, somewhere between 30 to 40 minutes into it, I felt an abrupt - I knew we had crashed. And I woke up, and Sean O'Keefe, I was on top of Sean.

"The first thing I did was I looked down and I saw Bill Phillips next to me and I knew, I knew he was gone. And I really had a hard time, just, my mind comprehending what was going on. And I looked around and all the seats on the plane had been sheared off and I knew right then and there that the death that was involved and it was instant.

"The plane was at quite an angle, and so I'm sliding head-first to the back of the plane, and I thought I'd better roll so I don't do a face plant, and I ended up with my neck wedged in the back of the plane. Again, I'm in shock; I don't have any idea that I have anything broken or hurt, and I can't seem to turn over, and I thought, 'My God, I'm just paralyzed or I'm dying."'

Morhard said at one point, he made a suggestion to say the rosary.

He said, "So here are four Catholic boys just sitting there and all you could hear was the rain and praying."

The survivors heard planes looking for them. Morhard told CBS News they waited 17 hours until rescuers arrived.

"They get closer, then they get farther away, and you can imagine your expectations and emotions rise and fall with the noise level of the planes, because you know they are looking for you. Then, all of the sudden, one dive bombs our plane. To Sean's credit, he got Willy to get his hand out a crack in the plane and waved it, and the pilot saw it. Helicopters came with rescuers ... but by the time they got there you know, it was dark, and they broke the news to us that we were not going to leave that night."

Morhard said the first responders were "unbelievable."

He said, "They knew they didn't have anything to stop the pain for the most part, and they knew they just had to hang tough with us, and they did everything they could, emotionally and physically, they could for us."

The other passengers who shared and survived that long night were Sean O'Keefe, his son Kevin, and 13-year-old Willy Phillips.