The head of the parent company of American Eurocopter – a major employer in the Golden Triangle region – survived a plane crash in a remote area of Alaska Monday night, officials said Tuesday.
Sean O'Keefe, CEO of EADS North America and a former NASA administrator, was on a trip with former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, when the aircraft in which they were flying slammed into a mountainside about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage, The Associated Press reported.
Stevens and O'Keefe were longtime fishing buddies who had been planning a trip near where the aircraft crashed, The AP said. Stevens and four others were killed.
O'Keefe and his teenage son survived the crash with broken bones and other injuries, former NASA spokesman Glenn Mahone said. The O'Keefes spent Monday night on the mountain with several volunteers who discovered the wreckage and tended to the injured until rescuers arrived Tuesday morning.
On word of O'Keefe's survival, EADS North American Chairman Ralph D. Crosby Jr. made the following statement posted on the company's Web site Tuesday:
“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," Crosby said. “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.”
O'Keefe, 54, was in the Golden Triangle region back in March to help celebrate the delivery of the 100th UH-72A, a helicopter assembled for the U.S. Army at American Eurocopter plant at Golden Triangle Regional Airport. The facility employs at least 300 people.
At the time, he said the company put together all 100 units on time and on budget.
"All of us are extremely proud," he said.
O'Keefe – who also served as the chancellor of Louisiana State University for a period of time beginning in 2005 – 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.
Stevens was appointed to the Senate in 1968 and served longer than any other Republican in history. He was revered as a relentless advocate for Alaska's economic interests.
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, had a daughter, Lily.
The airport in Anchorage is now named after Stevens.
"A decorated World War II veteran, Sen. Ted Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "Michelle and I extend our condolences to the entire Stevens family and to the families of those who perished alongside Sen. Stevens in this terrible accident."