WASHINGTON (CN) – Former Sen. Ted Stevens died in a plane crash in southwestern Alaska Monday night, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Stevens, 86, was the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, having served as Alaska senator from December 1968 to January 2009.
The deadly crash occurred at about 8:00 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time on Aug. 9. A small floatplane carrying Stevens and eight others went down 10 miles northwest of Aleknagik, Alaska, near Dillingham. The passengers were headed to a fishing spot.
The NTSB reported that five of the plane’s nine passengers died in the crash. The NTSB has launched an investigation.
Former NASA chief Sean O’Keefe was injured in the crash. O’Keefe is currently the CEO of EADS North America, a branch of the European aerospace corporation.
Stevens was president pro tempore of the Senate from 2003 to 2007, but then lost his reelection in 2008 after he was convicted of accepting illegal gifts. The conviction was later overturned after it came to light that Justice Department prosecutors mishandled evidence.
Stevens helped Alaska gain statehood in 1959.
“His legacy is the 49th star on the American flag,” Stevens’ family said in a statement after the crash. “He was a guiding light through statehood and the development of the 49th State. Now that light is gone, but the warmth and radiance of his life and his work will shine forever in the last frontier.”
“Alaska lost a hero, and I lost a dear friend,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement Tuesday. She said Stevens was called “Uncle Ted” by Alaskans.
Murkowski said the sentiments of Alaskans toward Stevens “is on a par with” American feelings about John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ronald Reagan.
“A decorated World War II veteran, Senator Ted Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform,” President Obama said in a statement. “Michelle and I extend our condolences to the entire Stevens family and to the families of those who perished alongside Senator Stevens in this terrible accident.”