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Alaska crash that killed ex-senator prompts safety

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. safety investigators want all private aircraft to be inspected immediately to ensure that onboard transmitters that beam global positioning signals to crash rescuers are properly secured.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found a similar device broke off in the Alaska crash that killed former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens and three others last August, possibly slowing attempts to find them in mountainous terrain.

"This vital life-saving technology won't do anyone any good if it doesn't stay connected to the antenna," said NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman.

The single-engine de Havilland turbine Otter carrying Stevens and friends, including EADS North America chief executive and former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, crashed on a fishing trip.

Aircraft searching for them in tree-covered terrain near Bristol Bay in the southwest part of the state never detected transmitter signals from the plane, the NTSB said.

When rescuers reached the site five hours after the crash, the homing device was found on the floor of the wrecked plane. It had separated from its mounting bracket and antenna.

Stevens, the pilot and three other passengers were killed. O'Keefe, his son and two others survived.

The safety board has yet to determine a cause, but the plane went down 19 miles from where it had departed. Weather conditions in the area had been rainy and windy and visibility was limited.

The NTSB safety recommendation was made to the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates safety for the hundreds of thousands of small planes and business aircraft registered in the United States.

(Reporting by John Crawley; editing by Philip Barbara)