Plane crashes in Alaska; 5 dead

Passengers onboard include former US senator and NASA Administrator

Senator Ted Stevens 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Senator Ted Stevens 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A plane carrying nine people — including former US Senator Ted Stevens and former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe — crashed in southwest Alaska, killing five people on board, authorities said Tuesday.
It was unclear whether Stevens or O'Keefe was among the dead.
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Reports from officials in Alaska stated that nine people were aboard the aircraft and that "it appears that there are five fatalities," a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz told The Associated Press in Washington.
A US government official told The Associated Press that Alaska authorities have been notified that Stevens, a former longtime Republican senator, was on the plane. The official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, says Stevens' condition is unknown.
Alaska National Guard spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes said the Guard was called to the area about 20 miles north of Dillingham at about 7 p.m. Monday after a passing aircraft saw the downed plane. But severe weather has hampered search and rescue efforts.
Hayes said five people were on scene early Tuesday helping the crash victims. It was unclear how they reached the site.
A second US government official in Washington said Tuesday that the National Guard in Alaska reported a private medical team was dropped near the crash site by a commercial helicopter Tuesday morning. Four of nine people aboard the plane survived, the official said.
Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley said the agency has a plane flying over the crash scene, scouting it to make sure it's safe for helicopters to come into the area with pararescuers.
Stevens' family thanked those trying to reach the site of a plane crash in southwest Alaska in a statement released Tuesday morning by a former Stevens chief of staff.
Lopatkiewicz said the NTSB is sending a team to the crash site.
In Washington, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the aircraft is a DeHavilland DHC-3T registered to Anchorage-based General Communication Corp.
O'Keefe was NASA's tenth administrator, nominated by George W. Bush and confirmed by the US Senate. He served during the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003 which killed seven astronauts as it re-entered the earth's atmosphere. On the shuttle was Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon.
Dillingham is located in northern Bristol Bay, about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage.