Former Senator Ted Stevens, who for decades had a leading hand in controlling the nation's purse strings, died in a small plane crash in his home state of Alaska, officials said on Tuesday.
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Alaska Governor Sean Parnell said five people, including Stevens, died in the Monday night crash and four survived.
The North American chief of European aerospace giant and Airbus maker EADS', Sean O'Keefe, and his son, were among the survivors, the company said in a statement.
Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator ever, chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and was a strong supporter of robust U.S. defense budgets. He was 86.
The lawmaker lost his re-election bid in 2008 after he was convicted on corruption charges, but the case was later thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct, including the withholding of exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers.
Stevens and O'Keefe, 54 and who once worked for Stevens on the Senate Appropriations Committee, were on a fishing trip in a remote part of Alaska with other former Senate staff members and their children, according to one congressional source.
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The single-engine, high-wing propeller plane, a DeHavilland DHC-3T, crashed about 10 miles northwest of Aleknagik, Alaska, at 8 p.m. local time on Monday (0400 GMT Tuesday), according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
Bad weather initially hampered rescue efforts and two Alaska National Guard rescuers reached the scene early on Tuesday and were treating at least two survivors. They did not identify who had been treated or any of those that died.
The plane wreckage was spotted Monday night and a private team hiked to the site to provide medical assistance during the night, the statement said.
The plane was owned by General Communication Inc, an Alaska communications and cable provider.
O'KEEFE CLOSE TO DEFENSE INDUSTRY
O'Keefe, a former NASA administrator and U.S. Navy secretary, was appointed chief executive of EADS North America in November as the European group tries to win a potentially $50 billion contract for aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force against Boeing.
An EADS statement said the company looked forward to O'Keefe's "full recovery" and "rapid return."
Industry experts said O'Keefe won respect in Washington circles for his aerospace and defense expertise.
"He's obviously a giant in U.S. national security," said Travis Sharp, a research associate with the Center for a New American Security. "You really can't replace his level of knowledge and familiarity with the military and how the defense sector in the United States works."
Stevens, a one-time federal prosecutor, was first appointed to the Senate in 1968 to fill the seat vacated by the death of Democratic Sen. Bob Bartlett. He won the seat in a special 1970 election and was repeatedly re-elected by wide margins.
As the top Republican on the committee in charge of annual government spending, he became known for the proposed "Bridge to Nowhere," which became a symbol of out-of-control spending. The now-abandoned project would have linked the town of Ketchikan to its island airport at a cost of $398 million.
President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the victims of the plane crash and their families.
"A decorated World War II veteran, Senator Ted Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform," Obama said in a statement.