EADS Executive O'Keefe Survives Alaska Plane Crash

European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. said Sean O’Keefe, the head of its North American unit, survived a plane crash that claimed the life of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens.

O’Keefe’s son, Kevin, also survived the crash, while five other passengers on the small plane died, EADS North America Chairman Ralph Crosby said in a statement today. Crosby did not elaborate on O’Keefe’s condition, saying only he looks “forward to Sean’s full recovery and his rapid return to EADS North America.”

Stevens, who served Alaska for four decades in the U.S. Senate, died in the accident last night. The Coast Guard said that four of nine people aboard the aircraft had survived. The DeHavilland DHC-3T plane crashed at about 8 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time last night northwest of Aleknagik, Alaska, according to a National Transportation Safety Board statement.

"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,’’ EADS said in the release. “We extend our deepest sympathy to the families of those less fortunate in this terrible accident.”

A former head of NASA, O’Keefe has been heading the North American operations of EADS since November, as the parent of planemaker Airbus SAS seeks to broaden its presence in the U.S. military market. His attention has focused on helping win the $35 billion contest against Boeing Co. for new U.S. Air Force refueling tankers.

Well-Connected

“O’Keefe is extremely well-connected, particularly in Republican circles, but is respected and liked by everyone involved,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Teal Group, a consultancy and an acquaintance of the executive.

O’Keefe succeeded Crosby as chief executive of the North American unit, with Crosby retaining his position as chairman of the subsidiary.

Before coming to EADS, O’Keefe ran the Washington office for General Electric Co.’s aviation subsidiary for more than a year. Over a 30-year career, he held government positions in Washington, including NASA Administrator from 2001 to 2005, deputy director and deputy assistant to the president at the Office of Management and Budget in 2001, and Secretary of the Navy from 1992 to 1993.

O’Keefe was also chancellor of Louisiana State University from 2005 to 2008.

After joining EADS, O’Keefe helped push ahead with an effort to participate the tanker competition even after its original U.S. partner, Northrop Grumman Corp., dropped out. EADS submitted its proposal to the Air Force on July 8, and the Pentagon will likely announce in November if Boeing or EADS has won the order for 179 airplanes to replace 1950s-era tankers.

Besides working on the tanker bid, O’Keefe has been given the mandate to expand businesses with the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as in space and related areas.

Besides the son traveling with him, O’Keefe also has another son, Jonathan, a daughter, Lindsey, and a wife, Laura.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Rothman in Paris at aerothman@bloomberg.net; Rachel Layne in Boston at rlayne@bloomberg.net;

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