August 10, 2010 in Nation/World, Region

Former NASA chief, son survive Alaska plane crash

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska in November 2008.
(Full-size photo)

JUNEAU, Alaska — Former NASA chief Sean O’Keefe and his teenage son survived a small plane crash in Alaska that killed former Sen. Ted Stevens, his company said today.

Defense contractor EADS North America confirmed in a statement “with a great sense of relief” that O’Keefe and his son, Kevin, survived Monday night’s crash near a remote fishing village in Alaska.

O’Keefe, 54, is the current CEO of the U.S.-based division of the European company.

Five people, including the 86-year-old Stevens, were killed in the crash. Four people survived.

O’Keefe was a federal budget official before he joined NASA at the end of 2001. His three years at NASA included the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster. He left in 2005 to become chancellor of Louisiana State University.

Glenn Mahone, a former NASA spokesman, said he had talked to O’Keefe’s family on today.

“They are banged up pretty badly,” Mahone said of O’Keefe and his son.

“There were some broken bones and scrapes,” he said. “The important thing is they are both alive.”

Rescuers arrived on helicopter early today and were giving medical care to survivors, Alaska National Guard spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes said.

NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said the agency is sending a team to the crash site outside Dillingham, located in northern Bristol Bay about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage. The aircraft is a DeHavilland DHC-3T registered to Anchorage-based GCI.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said the plane took off at 2 p.m. Monday from a GCI corporate site on Lake Nerka, heading to the Agulowak Lodge on Lake Aleknagik. He didn’t know if that was the final destination or a refueling stop.

The GCI lodge is made of logs and sits on a lake, and photos show a stately main lodge room with a large imposing stone fireplace, a leather sofa and a mounted caribou head on the wall.

Fergus said the plane was flying by visual flight rules, and was not required to file a flight plan.

Stevens and O’Keefe were longtime fishing buddies and the former senator had been planning a fishing trip near Dillingham, longtime friend William Canfield said. The flights at Dillingham are often perilous through the mountains, even in good weather.

Hayes said the Guard was called to the area about 20 miles north of Dillingham around 7 p.m. Monday after a passing aircraft saw the downed plane. But severe weather has hampered search and rescue efforts.

The National Weather Service reported rain and fog, with low clouds and limited visibility early today. Conditions ranged from visibility of about 10 miles reported at Dillingham shortly before 7 p.m. Monday to 3 miles, with rain and fog later.

At least two crash victims were treated Tuesday morning by military rescuers, Guard spokeswoman Kalei Brooks Rupp said. She said a team of Good Samaritans hiked into the crash site Monday night and provided medical aid until rescuers arrived.

Stevens was a moderate Republican appointed to the Senate in 1968. He served longer than any other Republican in history. He was beloved as a tireless advocate for Alaska’s economic interests.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked Alaskans to join her in prayer for all those aboard the aircraft and their families, as did Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. He called the plane crash tragic.

Stevens was one of two survivors in a 1978 plane crash at Anchorage International Airport that killed his wife, Ann, and several others. He remarried several years after the crash — he and his second wife, Catherine, have a daughter, Lily.

Over the years, Stevens directed billions of dollars to Alaska.

But one of his projects — infamously known as the “Bridge to Nowhere” — became a symbol of pork-barrel spending in Congress and a target of taxpayer groups who challenged a $450 million appropriation for bridge construction in Ketchikan.

Stevens’ standing in Alaska was toppled by corruption allegations and a federal trial in 2008. He was convicted of all seven counts — and narrowly lost his Senate seat to Begich in the election the following week.

But five months after the election, Attorney General Eric Holder sought to dismiss the indictment against Stevens and not proceed with a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct by federal prosecutors.

O’Keefe, 54, was NASA administrator for three tumultuous years. He was deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget when President George W. Bush asked him in late 2001 to head NASA and help bring soaring space station costs under control.

But budget-cutting became secondary when the shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry in 2003.

O’Keefe’s most controversial action at NASA was when he decided to cancel one last repair mission by astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope. He said the mission was too risky. His successor overturned the decision. The Hubble mission was carried out last year.

O’Keefe left NASA in 2005 to become chancellor of Louisiana State University. He is now the CEO of defense contractor EADS North America and oversees the bid for the hotly contested Air Force refueling jet contract.

The contract competition, which pits EADS against rival plane maker Boeing Co., is for a piece of what could eventually be $100 billion worth of work replacing the military’s fleet of aging tankers.

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