Ten weeks to the day of a fishing plane crash that killed former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and four others, former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe is finally reporting for work, according to family friends.
O'Keefe, a long-time Stevens associate and friend, was warmly welcomed back to aerospace giant EADS North America, which he was hired to head last November.
His recovery was among the longest of the four survivors, including his 19-year-old son Kevin who has returned to college. O'Keefe suffered a bruised back, broken feet and other injuries that kept him in intensive care for a month. He is still wearing a neck brace and sports a white beard which he's pledged to shave off once the brace comes off.
Their miraculous tale of survival in the downed float plane will finally be revealed on Friday on NBC's Dateline. O'Keefe was interviewed by reporter Ann Curry last week. He is also expected to appear on the Today Show Friday morning to preview the 9 p.m. Dateline special on the crash and life of Stevens.
Friends say that O'Keefe, 54, kept fellow survivors alert and prevented them from going into shock as they waited many hours for rescue while trapped in the plane's wreckage by leading them in prayer and regaling them with bad jokes and even worse singing. Despite his many weeks in the hospital and rehabilitation, associates say that O'Keefe has maintained his trademark sense of humor.
The crash occurred on August 9 in the Alaska "bush country" as Stevens and his eight guests were traveling between fishing camps. The aircraft went down in bad weather. Stevens and four others died. The O'Keefes and two other survivors, Washington lobbyist Jim Morhard and 13-year-old Willy Phillips were rescued by the Alaska Air National Guard. Phillips's father died in the crash.
Over the last two weeks, O'Keefe has been traveling a bit. First he went to Capitol Hill to memorialize the former Alaska senator with a $100,000 EADS scholarship in Stevens's name to benefit the families of National Guard and Coast Guard personnel in Alaska. He later traveled to New Orleans to attend his first meeting at Loyola University since being named to the school's board of directors. Prior to heading EADS in Washington, O'Keefe was the chancellor of Louisiana State University. He also served as Navy secretary under former President George H.W. Bush and as a deputy budget chief and NASA administrator under former President George W. Bush.
Pictured Above, Left to Right: Major General Tom Katkus, Alaska National Guard; Sean O'Keefe, CEO of EADS North America; and Major General Gus L. Hargett, Jr., President of the National Guard Association of the United States.