Former NASA head O'Keefe in downed plane; five killed
Sean O'Keefe, the head of EADS' North American unit and a former NASA administrator, was on board a small private plane that crashed in Alaska, aerospace firm EADS confirmed Tuesday, dpa reported.
Five people died, one person was seriously injured and three others were unaccounted for as the plane went down Monday night in a secluded south-western part of the state, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said.
It was unclear whether O'Keefe was among the possible survivors. EADS spokesman Guy Hicks would confirm only that O'Keefe was a passenger, but suggested there was still hope he was alive.
"Local authorities are reporting that there are survivors and a rescue operation is underway," Hicks said in a statement.
Rescue workers reportedly spent the night with some survivors at the crash site. The FAA said the cause of the accident was still unknown, though it reported poor weather at the time of the flight.
There were media reports that former US senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-ever serving Republican in the chamber, was also on board. Stevens lost a 2008 re-election bid in the wake of a damaging corruption scandal.
Stevens survived another plane crash in 1978 in Anchorage, Alaska, in which his wife was killed. Family members were in contact with Alaskan rescue authorities, although they would not confirm if Stevens was actually on board the plane, broadcaster CNN reported.
O'Keefe became chief executive of EADS North America last year, helping oversee the European firm's long-running struggle to win a Pentagon contract to build the next generation of aerial refuellers against rival Boeing. EADS is also the parent company of Airbus.
O'Keefe served as NASA chief from 2001 to 2005 under former president George W Bush. He was credited for astutely managing the US space agency after the Columbia shuttle disintegrated on February 1, 2003, while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.