Midair Plane Collision Kills 7 Near Soldotna

Category: AP News
Created on Monday, 03 August 2020 16:32
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By MORGAN KRAKOW
Anchorage Daily News

Investigators are trying to figure out what exactly occurred when two planes collided in midair near the Soldotna airport on the Kenai Peninsula on Friday, killing seven people including a Kenai lawmaker.

The single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver involved in the crash carried six people: 57-year-old pilot Gregory Bell, of Soldotna; 40-year-old guide David Rogers, of Kansas; and South Carolina residents Caleb Hulsey, 26, Heather Hulsey, 25, Mackay Hulsey, 24, and Kirstin Wright, 23, Alaska State Troopers said.

The only person in the other plane, a single-engine Piper PA-12, was 63-year-old state Rep. Gary Knopp of Kenai, troopers and federal aviation officials said.

Six people were confirmed dead at the scene while one person died on the way to Central Peninsula Hospital in an ambulance.

The federal National Transportation Safety Board was recovering the two planes, NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson said Saturday. The agency hoped to be finished with recovery efforts by the end of Saturday, and the goal is to bring the two planes to a secured location in the Wasilla area, Johnson said.

In the next two weeks the agency hopes to “be able to piece those airplanes back together” to understand how the two planes came together, Johnson said.

He also said it’s “way too early to discuss cause at this point. We are definitely just in the preliminary stages and information gathering stages.”

Bell, the Beaver’s pilot, was part of a family that owns and operates High Adventure Air Charter, based on Longmere Lake in Soldotna. The business offers fishing, hunting, bear viewing and glacier tour trips as well as custom charters.

The charter plane, which was equipped with floats, took off from Longmere Lake and was headed to the west side of Cook Inlet, Johnson said.

The Piper PA-12 was equipped with wheels and took off from the Soldotna Airport, he said, but investigators do not yet know where it was headed.

How exactly the two planes collided is what investigators are trying to learn.

Knopp, a longtime contractor who was also a flight instructor and pilot, was elected to the Legislature in 2016. Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday ordered U.S. and Alaska state flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Knopp for three days, ending at sunset Monday, with flags returning to full-staff at sunrise tonight.

A South Carolina television station reported that Caleb and Mackay Hulsey were brothers. Heather Hulsey was married to Caleb, the station reported. Mackay and Kirstin Wright were planning to marry and had been dating since 2011.

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Daily News reporters Zaz Hollander, James Brooks and Paula Dobbyn contributed.