Former Sen. Ted Stevens confirmed dead in Alaska plane crash

Ted Stevens, the gruff and bullishly determined longtime former U.S. senator from Alaska, died in Monday’s crash of a small plane near a small fishing town on Alaska’s Bristol Bay, a family spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

“The family has just been notified that he did not survive,” said Mitch Rose, former chief of staff for Stevens, 86, who served 41 years in the Senate before being convicted on corruption charges and losing his seat in 2008. The charges were later dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe, who was aboard the flight with his son, survived the crash, according to EADS North America, the aerospace company for which he is chief executive.

“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 board chairman Ralph Crosby Jr. said in a statement.

Stevens and O’Keefe reportedly had been traveling to a luxury fishing lodge owned by Alaska telecom company GCI, where high-powered political guests are frequently wined and dined. The downed plane was spotted about 7 p.m. Monday 17 miles north of Dillingham, but rescuers were hampered by high winds and low clouds before getting to the scene Tuesday morning.

Nine people were aboard the private plane, a De Havilland DHC-3T Otter owned by telecom company GCI.

“The weather has been hampering pretty much everything going out to the scene,” said Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.

“I can tell you that we have the best search and rescue people pretty much anywhere. They do this pretty much every day, and if we can’t get there, that means it’s bad and unsafe,” Peters said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched investigators from Anchorage and Washington, D.C. Board chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman is accompanying the team and will serve as spokesperson for the on-scene investigation, the agency said in a statement.

Several “good Samaritans,” including a doctor, had reached the site earlier and were rendering emergency aid to the victims, added McHugh Pierre, director of the information office for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Stevens, 86, was the elder statesman of Alaska politics. The Republican served 41 years in the U.S. Senate before being convicted on corruption charges and losing his Senate seat in 2008.

The Justice Department later moved to set aside the conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecutors admitted they had failed to hand over contradictory statements from a key witness that might have been exculpatory.

Stevens’ former wife, Ann, died in a plane crash in 1978 that he survived.

“I join Alaskans and others across the country waiting for details of last night’s tragic plane crash near Dillingham. My thoughts and prayers are with those on board the plane and their families as we wait for more information.” U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat who defeated Stevens, said in a statement.

Hayes, the Alaska National Guard spokesman, said when asked about the report that Stevens had died: “I can’t confirm it at this time.”

The House majority office of the Alaska legislature also said they had received no direct word, nor had Begich’s office.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski also issued a statement of concern: “While we await further information about this tragic accident, I ask Alaskans to join me in prayer for all those aboard the aircraft and their families,” she said.