Former NASA Chief Sean O'Keefe On Plane That Crashed In Alaska

Former NASA Chief Sean O'Keefe On Plane That Crashed In Alaska
Astronaut John Glenn and NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe speak with the Expedition Four crew aboard the space station on Feb. 20, 2002 -- the 40th anniversary of Glenn's Project Mercury flight.

This story was updated at 4:06 p.m. ET.

Former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe and his son are among the survivors of the fatal plane crash in southwestern Alaska late Monday that killed five people, one of them ex-senator Ted Stevens nine, according to news reports.

The plane was carrying nine people when it crashed Monday night near the town of Dillingham, Alaska, National Transportation Safety Board officials said.

O'Keefe is reported to have survived the crash, according to a Reuters report, which cited an unnamed official with the defense contractor EADS North America, where O'Keefe serves as CEO. EADS officials, however, have not confirmed O'Keefe's status officially.

"Sean O'Keefe, EADS North America's CEO, was a passenger on a private aircraft that crashed in Alaska last night," said EADS North America spokesperson Guy Hicks in a statement earlier today. "Local authorities are reporting that there are survivors and a rescue operation is underway."

The NASA watchdog website NASAWatch said a family member has confirmed that O'Keefe's son Kevin was also on the plane and that both survived.

Earlier today, a statement released by a Stevens family spokesperson said the 86-year-old former senator for Alaska had died in the crash, CNN reported. The condition of O'Keefe remains unclear.

A National Transportation Safety Board team is en route 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."

Former NASA chief

O'Keefe served as NASA Administrator — the agency's top job — between 2001 and 2005. He was appointed by President George W. Bush and served as the 10th chief of the space agency.

O'Keefe was succeeded in 2005 by Michael Griffin, who led the space agency until 2009. The current NASA chief is Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle commander.

Stevens served as a senator for Alaska until 2008, when he lost his re-election bid and was convicted on corruption charges, though the case was later thrown out, according to MSNBC. At the time he was the longest-serving Republican senator.

O'Keefe and Stevens have a long friendship that predates O'Keefe's tenure as NASA chief, and were longtime fishing buddies, according to the Associated Press and CNN.

NASA head office tenure

During his tenure at NASA, O'Keefe led the space agency through both triumph and tragedy. In February 2003, NASA's space shuttle Columbia was destroyed during its reentry to Earth. O'Keefe oversaw efforts to cope with the trauma and get the space agency back on track.

In January 2004, O'Keefe made the controversial decision to cancel a planned space shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope (that decision was later reversed by his successor, Michael Griffin, and the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission did fly in May 2009).

Under O'Keefe's leadership, NASA also successfully landed the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity on the Red planet in January 2004. Those spacecraft went on to become the longest running missions on Mars.

In honor of his service to NASA, an asteroid discovered in 2003 was named after O'Keefe — the space rock 78905 Seanokeefe (2003 SK85).

After resigning from NASA in 2005, O'Keefe served as chancellor of Louisiana State University.

"The LSU community is deeply concerned about Sean and his family at this difficult time of uncertainty. Sean is a valued member of the LSU family and our thoughts and prayers are with him," said LSU chancellor Michael Martin in a statement. "We also offer our prayers to everyone affected by this tragedy."

O'Keefe later moved on to become the CEO of EADS North America, a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).  

Prior to heading up NASA, O'Keefe served as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, where he oversaw planning and management of the federal budget during the administration of President Bush.

Before that, O'Keefe was the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse, N.Y. He also directed the National Security Studies program, a joint department of Syracuse and Johns Hopkins University.

Earlier in his career, the first president Bush appointed O'Keefe as Secretary of the Navy in 1992. In 1993, President Bush and then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney presented him with the Distinguished Public Service Award.

This report will be updated as events warrant.

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.