Alaska Midair Collision Kills 7, Officials Say
Seven people were killed, including a member of the Alaska State Legislature, after two planes collided in midair on Friday morning in the Alaskan city of Soldotna, the authorities said.
Officials said the collision, between a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver and a Piper-PA12, happened at 8:30 a.m. local time, two miles northeast of Soldotna Airport, which is about 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The lawmaker who was killed, Gary Knopp, was a Republican member of the state House of Representatives, the speaker of the House, Bryce Edgmon, said in a news release.
Mr. Knopp was piloting the Piper and was the sole occupant, Clint Johnson, chief of the Alaska regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said. Six people were aboard the other plane, which was designed with pontoons to make water landings, he said.
Mr. Johnson said weather conditions were very good, with 10-mile visibility.
The authorities were investigating the cause of the collision and it was not immediately clear which plane struck the other, he said. Pilots use a common radio frequency in the area to convey their intentions and that will be one of the elements investigators explore, he said.
In addition to Mr. Knopp, 67, of Kenai, Alaska, the state Department of Public Safety identified the others killed as: Gregory Bell, 67, of Soldotna, who was the pilot; David Rogers, 40, of Kansas, who was a guide; Caleb Hulsey, 26; Heather Hulsey, 25; Mackay Hulsey, 24; and Kirstin Wright, 23, all of South Carolina.
All of those were confirmed dead at the scene except for one person who succumbed to injuries while being transported to a hospital, the department said.
“This is an unfathomable tragedy for multiple families today,” the department commissioner, Amanda Price, said. “Troopers and partner agencies have worked together diligently at the scene and have reached out to next of kin to notify them of this heartbreaking incident.”
Mr. Knopp had taken off from the airport and the pontoon-equipped plane, operated by High Adventure Air Charter, had left Longmere Lake, Mr. Johnson said. Mr. Bell is listed as one of the company’s owners on its website.
A person who answered the phone at High Adventure said the company declined to comment.
The company runs flights for bear-watching and glacier tours and to bring passengers on fishing trips. The area around Soldotna, on the Kenai Peninsula, is speckled with lakes.
The top of the company’s website reads: “JUST SO YOU KNOW! Remember… ‘God is in Control.’ In these difficult times we want you to know our prayers are going out to each person struggling around the world.”
Gov. Mike Dunleavy ordered the United States and Alaska state flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Mr. Knopp for three days.
“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.”
Mr. Knopp was born in Whitefish, Mont., and moved to Alaska in 1979, according to his biography.
He worked as a general contractor, and was elected in 2006 to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, a position he held until 2012. He was elected to the State House of Representatives in 2016.
Two F.A.A. safety inspectors were at the crash site, which was near Sterling Highway. The majority of the wreckage was located approximately 200 yards from the road.
Kevin Carpenter, the owner of Sundog Serigraphics-Screenprinting, said debris from the collision, including a wheel cover and small pieces of plexiglass, was found in the parking lot of his business.
He described the weather on Friday morning as bright and sunny, with no wind or fog.
Of the collision he said, “For the life of me, I can’t figure it out.”
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