NASA, AIPAC Mourn US Sen Stevens

NASA mourns the death Tuesday of Senator Ted Stevens, who died in a plane crash that also nearly killed the space agency's ex-head and his son.

Chana Ya'ar , | updated: 3:51 PM

US Senator Ted Stevens
US Senator Ted Stevens
Israel news photo: US government

NASA is mourning Tuesday's death of Senator Ted Stevens,"a friend of Israel," who was killed in a plane crash in Alaska that also nearly took the life of the American space agency's former head and his son.

“We at NASA are deeply saddened...” the agency said in a statement issued to the media about the incident in which former agency administrator Sean O'Keefe and his son Kevin were injured.” Stevens was at least partly responsible for ensuring the agency received generous government funding during his tenure on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

But Stevens was not only a supporter of the American race for space.

'Steadfast Supporter' of Israel

According to AIPAC, the venerated senator was a “lion” who was “a strong friend of Israel and a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Stevens was named “Alaskan of the Century” by the Alaska State Legislature in 2000, AIPAC said in a statement expressing its deep regret over his death. “Working together with his colleague Senator Daniel Inouye, the Stevens-Inouye team represented the hallmark of bi-partisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the lobbyist organization said.

The senator “demonstrated his steadfast commitment to America's alliance with the Jewish state year after year,” AIPAC added, noting that he was a “consistent supporter of U.S. aid to Israel and of America's partnership with Israel in the joint development and production of the Arrow anti-missile system, currently protecting every citizen of the Jewish State.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the families of all those lost in [the] tragic plane crash,” the group said in its statement. 

'Uncle Ted'

The senator, known in Alaska as “Uncle Ted,” has widely been seen as one of the most popular politicians in the history of the state of Alaska. The Republican senator's 40-year career, the longest in the history of the Senate, translated into billions of dollars for the state. Although in 2008 it ended in corruption charges, they later dissolved under the glare of a detailed investigation.

He was among five people who were killed when the red and white 1957 single-engine DeHavilland DHC-3T crashed in the Alaskan wilderness northwest of the town of Aleknagik. Among the dead was the pilot, 62-year-old Theron “Terry” Smith of Eagle River; 48-year-old GCI executive Dana Tindall and her 16-year-old daughter Corey; and 48-year-old William “Bill” Phillips.

Such crashes are not uncommon due to the mountainous conditions in the state, which combined with the often treacherous weather, force many to use air travel.

O'Keefe, 54, currently serves as CEO of the North American arm of EADS (European Aeronautic Defense and Space) firm. He was heading to his fishing lodge together with the senator and six others, besides his son.

O'Keefe and Stevens became fast friends during the 1980s, when the senator led the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, and mentored O'Keefe, a member of the staff. During the administration of President George Bush Senior, O'Keefe served as comptroller and chief financial officer of the U.S. Department of Defense, and in 1992 as the country's Secretary of the Navy.

“As a long-time supporter of NASA, Sen. Stevens made lasting contributions to our agency and our country,” the NASA statement went on. “We at NASA mourn his loss and send our deepest condolences to his family, as well as the families and friends of all who perished in the accident."