Seven people were killed, including Alaska state lawmaker Gary Knopp (R), after two small planes crashed into each other mid-air early Friday morning while flying over the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, Alaska.
The pilots of the planes, Knopp, 67, and Gregory Bell, 57, were both residents of the area, according to officials. Bell was flying with five other passengers, including David Rogers, a 40-year-old guide from Kansas, and four people from out-of-state. Knopp was flying solo.
The other four victims, Caleb Hulsey, Heather Hulsey, Mackay Hulsey, and Kirstin Wright, were all from South Carolina and in their mid-twenties.
“This is an unfathomable tragedy for multiple families today. The DPS sends a heartfelt condolence to all who lost a loved one in this mid-air collision,” Amanda Price, Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “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.”
All but one person died on scene, while the seventh person died en route to the hospital, said officials. The investigation remains ongoing.
According to The New York Times, the majority of the wreckage was found about 200 yards from the Sterling Highway. A local business owner told the Times that the weather the morning of the crash was clear and the sun was shining brightly.
Knopp, who was born in Montana but moved to Alaska in the late 1970s, worked as a general contractor prior to entering politics and was remembered as a “one-of-a-kind leader,” said House speaker Bryce Edgemon (I) in a statement Friday.
“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,” said Edgemon.
State House Majority Leader Steve Thompson (R) called Knopp “one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”
State Senator Peter Micciche (R), who represents the district in which Knopp lived, also offered condolences according to Alaska Daily News.
“We live in a small, tight community here in the Central Peninsula. When I heard the horrific sounds of a plane crash this morning, which occurred very close to my home, I knew there was a high probability it involved someone we knew well,” he stated.
Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) ordered flags to fly at half-staff until Monday in honor of the late representative, who served in local government before he was elected to the state legislature in 2016.
“The First Lady and I wish to express our heartfelt condolences to Representative Knopp’s family as they mourn his untimely passing,” said Governor Dunleavy in a statement.
“Throughout his 42 years on the Kenai Peninsula, Gary became well known as an avid outdoorsman, a skilled pilot, and a dedicated public servant. His presence will no doubt be missed by those he faithfully served,” said the governor.
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