State Lawmaker and 6 Passengers Killed After 2 Planes Collide Midair in Alaska: 'Unfathomable Tragedy'
A state lawmaker and six others were killed in Alaska on Friday when two small aircrafts collided in midair, officials said.
At approximately 8:27 a.m. local time, officials responded to a report of a plane crash near Soldotna, about two miles from a local airport, according to an Alaska Department of Public Safety press release.
An investigation determined that two planes — a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver and a Piper-PA12 — crashed into one another.
State Rep. Gary Knopp, 67, was flying solo when he collided with the other aircraft carrying a total of six people: four people on a South Carolina trip, a guide from Kansas and a local pilot.
According to officials, all but one person was pronounced dead at the scene. The others succumbed to their injuries on the way to the hospital.
Along with the Knopp, troopers identified the six victims as pilot Gregory Bell, 57; guide David Rogers, 40; and South Carolinians Caleb Hulsey, 26; Heather Hulsey, 25; Mackay Hulsey, 24; and Kirstin Wright, 23.
Following the crash, the Sterling Highway was temporarily closed due to the safety concerns and debris on the roadway.
The National Transportation Safety Board will be conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.
Rita Geller, a nearby witness, told NBC News affiliate KTUU that she had a "loud metallic clang, bang" before seeing the "plane go down."
"I ran around a tree to get a better look and I could see the plane blowing apart, the pieces of it flying off and the fuselage was on fire," she said.
“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,” Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price said in the release. "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.”
Knopp's staff released a statement on Friday, sharing that they were "devastated to hear" of the politician's death.
"Gary will be remembered as a true Alaskan who always stood for what he believed was right," his office said in a statement, obtained by NBC News. "Gary loved Alaska and fought to make it a better place to live for all Alaskans. His spirit, and the spirit of what he believed in, will live on in the lives of those he touched and in the policies he championed as a public servant."
Gov. Mike Dunleavy mandated that all U.S. and Alaska state flags be flown at half-staff this weekend to honor Knopp.