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Senator, family members killed in Minnesota plane crash

Paul Wellstone
Paul Wellstone

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Born: July 21, 1944, Arlington, Virginia
Wife: Sheila Ison Wellstone
Children: David, Marcia, Mark
Career: Minnesota U.S. Senator, starting 1991; associate professor, political science, 1969-1990
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CNN's Candy Crowley takes a look at Wellstone's political legacy (October 25)
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President Bush comments on the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (October 25)
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Former U.S.Vice President Walter Mondale pays tribute to Wellstone (October 25)
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EVELETH, Minnesota (CNN) -- Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila and daughter Marcia died Friday in a small plane crash near Eveleth, Minnesota, that also killed three staff members and two pilots.

The plane went down in snowy, frozen rain and then burst into flames in a wooded area about 7 miles east of Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport. Officials said the last contact with the plane was at 10:20 a.m. CDT when the plane was about 2 miles from the airport.

Choking back tears, a Senate colleague expressed his sympathy. "He was such a good man, and his wife too," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. "All of these people had families and they had friends and this is a horrible, horrible thing."

Such sentiments were echoed by Republicans: "He always just had a love for every person because you knew everything that he was talking about he deeply believed in and deeply cared about," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas. "And then he cared deeply about the people around him. He was a very engaging person."

President Bush called Wellstone "a man of deep convictions. He was a plain- spoken fellow who did his best for his state and for his country."

From his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the president offered "prayers and heartfelt sympathy" to the Wellstone family and the families of the other people who died in the crash. (More tributes)

Wellstone held a key Democratic seat in the U.S. Senate and had been criss-crossing the state in a tough re-election campaign against former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

Coleman said their election race battles were political, not personal and that with Wellstone's death, "The state has suffered a very grievous loss today."

Coleman also remembered Wellstone's kindness.

"The toughest day I had being mayor was in my first year when I lost two police officers. One of the first calls I got was from Wellstone asking, 'What can I do?' said Coleman. "I have never, ever forgotten that."

The plane, a twin-engine turboprop King Air manufactured by Raytheon Aircraft, took off from Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, a southwestern suburb of Minneapolis. He was scheduled to attend a funeral in the northeast, followed by a campaign stop in Duluth.

The weather in the Eveleth area was so bad hours after the crash that a 12-person National Transportation Safety Board team was to fly from Washington into Duluth instead of Eveleth.

Wellstone, 58, won his Senate seat in 1990, the only challenger that year to unseat an incumbent.

The son of Russian immigrants, Wellstone was raised in Arlington, Virginia, and was a champion wrestler at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he earned both a bachelor's degree and a doctorate. (More on his life)

Campaign volunteers for Sen. Paul Wellstone take part in a candlelight vigil at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The charismatic Wellstone, who had multiple sclerosis but was not incapacitated by it, was a champion of health care coverage expansion, veterans affairs and environmental concerns.

"I really tried to never do anything I don't believe in, so I don't want to change it now. I really don't," Wellstone said in a recent interview with CNN.

Fellow liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said from Minneapolis -- where he had been campaigning for Wellstone and others -- that his colleague "was a man of enormous ability" with "a passion for the good things for people."

Wellstone had one of the most liberal voting records in Congress. The two-term Democrat was known for taking stands that defied the prevailing political winds, such as his recent vote against a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq or his vote against the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

He was elected in a big upset in 1990, when he beat incumbent Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, whom he defeated again in 1996. This year, Republicans were tracing their hopes for ousting Wellstone back to January 17, 2001 -- when he announced he would break a pledge to serve only two terms and seek a third.

While other senators had broken similar pledges, Wellstone was heavily criticized and Republicans recruited Coleman to run against him. Polls showed the two in a tight race for the Senate seat.

Wellstone's death leaves a void in the state's election for the Senate.

Under Minnesota law, if a nominee in a Senate race dies during a campaign, his or her political party can select a replacement candidate no later than four days before the general election. Election Day this year is November 5. (More on political impact)

The senator and his wife are survived by two sons and six grandchildren.

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