NEW YORK — Former NASA chief Sean O’Keefe and his son are among the survivors of the fatal plane crash in southwestern Alaska Aug. 9 that killed five people, one of them ex-senator Ted Stevens, officials with the defense contractor EADS North America have confirmed.
The plane was carrying nine people when it crashed at night near the town of Dillingham, Alaska, National Transportation Safety Board officials (NTSB) said. O’Keefe, who serves as chief executive for EADS North America, was one of the passengers along with his son Kevin and Stevens.
“It was with a great sense of relief and gratitude that we learned that Sean, and his son, Kevin, survived the aircraft crash in Alaska. We extend our deepest sympathy to the families of those less fortunate in this terrible accident,” EADS North America chairman Ralph D. Crosby said in a statement. “We owe a debt of gratitude for the heroic efforts of the members of the rescue crew and others who rushed to the scene. We look forward to Sean’s full recovery and his rapid return to EADS North America.”
Reports of the O’Keefes’ survival were received with relief by officials at the Louisiana State University (LSU) — where O’Keefe served as chancellor after leaving NASA — among others.
“The LSU community is happy and relieved to learn that former Chancellor Sean O’Keefe and his son Kevin were found alive following their plane crash in Alaska,” current LSU chancellor Michael Martin said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to everyone affected by this tragic event, and we send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those lost in the crash.”
The NTSB dispatched a team to investigate the crash and issued an announcement on the crash.
“At about 8:00 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time, a DeHavilland DHC-3T (N455A) crashed 10 miles northwest of Aleknagik, Alaska,” NTSB officials said. “Reports are that 5 of the 9 persons on board died in the accident.”
Rescue efforts were hampered by severe weather in the region near the plane crash, according to press reports.
O’Keefe served as NASA administrator between 2001 and 2005. He was appointed by President George W. Bush and served as the 10th chief of the space agency. It was during his tenure that the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up upon re-entry Feb. 1, 2003, an event that ultimately led to the decision to retire the orbiter fleet and set NASA on course to return astronauts to the Moon. While the shuttle fleet’s retirement is still slated to occur next year, NASA’s return to the Moon has been put on indefinite hold as the White House and Congress grapple over the future direction of the human spaceflight program.
O’Keefe was succeeded in 2005 by Michael Griffin, who led the space agency until 2009. The current NASA chief is Charles , a former space shuttle commander.
“We at NASA are deeply saddened by today’s news that former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and others were killed in a plane crash in Alaska that also injured former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and his son, Kevin,” Bolden said in statement Aug. 10. “As a long-time supporter of NASA, Sen. Stevens made lasting contributions to our agency and our country. We at NASA mourn his loss and send our deepest condolences to his family, as well as the families and friends of all who perished in the accident.”
Bolden said NASA sends its wishes to O’Keefe, his son and the rest of their family.