Alaska state lawmaker, six others killed after two planes collide in midair
A state lawmaker in Alaska and six others were killed on Friday morning after two planes collided midair in the city of Soldotna.
State Rep. Gary Knopp (R), 67, was the sole occupant of a Piper PA-12 when it collided with a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver around 8:30 a.m. local time near the Soldotna Airport, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
All were confirmed dead at the scene except for one person who succumbed to injuries while being transported to a hospital, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
The other plane is designed with pontoons to make water landings, according to officials. It was operated by High Adventure Air Charter, a company that runs flights for bear watching and glacier tours as well as fishing trips.
Onboard the plane was a family visiting from South Carolina, identified by local media as Caleb Hulsey, 26, Heather Hulsey, 25, Mackay Hulsey, 24, and Kirstin Wright, 23.
The others killed were identified as local pilot Gregory Bell, 57, and guide David Rogers, 40, of Kansas.
“Rose and I are heartbroken for the families of today’s victims, and I can assure them that investigators will have the State’s full cooperation as they begin to unravel this morning’s tragic events,” Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) said in a statement.
Weather reports indicate that there was clear visibility on Friday morning. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will be investigating the crash.
Rita Geller, a shop attendant at a nearby golf course, told the Anchorage Daily News that she heard the collision and witnessed one of the plans fall.
“I ran to more of a clearing and basically saw it explode. The engine, things were flying off of it. I didn’t see the second plane, but I saw a lot of debris flying around,” she said. “It was horrific. It was just like 9/11.”
The governor said he has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the victims for three days in honor of Knopp.
“Throughout his 42 years on the Kenai Peninsula, Gary became well known as an avid outdoorsman, a skilled pilot, and a dedicated public servant,” the governor said. “His presence will no doubt be missed by those he faithfully served.”
Knopp, a Montana native, moved to Alaska in 1979 and enjoyed flying, hunting and spending time outdoors, according to a statement from the Alaska House Majority.
A longtime contractor and flight instructor, Knopp was elected to represent Alaska House District 30 in 2016.
“I’m devastated and shocked to learn of the crash that claimed Gary Knopp’s life,” said Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D). “Gary was a one-of-a-kind leader and a true Alaskan who worked tirelessly for his district in the Legislature. He will be missed by many.”