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Ex-U.S. Senator Stevens dies in Alaska plane crash

WASHINGTON/ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - Former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, who for years had a strong hand in controlling the nation’s purse strings, died in a small plane crash that killed at least five people in his home state of Alaska, a family spokesman said on Tuesday.

The North American chief of European aerospace giant and Airbus maker EADS’, Sean O’Keefe, and his son, survived the Monday night crash, a sourced briefed on the matter said.

Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator ever, chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and was a strong supporter of robust U.S. defence budgets. A family spokesman confirmed his death in the crash. 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 defence lawyers.

Stevens and O’Keefe were on a fishing trip in a remote part of Alaska, according to the congressional source, adding that the plane either crashed by a lake or into the water.

The single-engine, high-wing propeller plane, a DeHavilland DHC-3T, crashed about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Aleknagik, Alaska, at 8 p.m. local time on Monday (0400 GMT Tuesday), according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

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Federal safety officials said early information indicated that nine people were aboard and at least five were killed in the crash late on Monday, while another source close to the matter said eight people were aboard and that five were dead.

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.

“Poor weather remains a factor, as there is less than a quarter-mile visibility at the crash site and less than a 100-foot ceiling in the area,” the Alaska National Guard said in a statement.

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.

O’Keefe, 54, a former NASA administrator and U.S. Navy secretary, is CEO of the North American unit of the European aerospace and defence group EADS that owns plane maker Airbus and is in a pitched battle with Boeing to win a potentially $50 billion contract to supply 179 refuelling aircraft to the U.S. Air Force.

O’Keefe worked for Stevens for many years in Congress on annual spending matters including defence work.

Additional reporting by John Crawley in Washington, Bill Rigby in Seattle and Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, editing by Anthony Boadle