Federal plane crash investigators say it is too early to tell why two airplanes collided in mid-air over Soldotna, Alaska, Friday morning, killing seven people, including Alaska State Representative Gary Knopp.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent investigators to the site of the plane crash to open an investigation. The earliest stages of the investigation include recovering and reassembling the destroyed aircraft, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing relevant flight records.
The collision occurred just before 8:30 a.m. in the skies near the Soldotna airport, showering part of a highway northeast of the airport and a business parking lot with debris. Several people on the ground witnessed the plane crash.
Alaska State Troopers reported that the collision involved a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver carrying six people and a single-engine Piper PA-12 flown by Rep. Knopp.
In addition to Mr. Knopp, a 63-year-old contractor, pilot, and flight instructor who was elected to the Alaska State Legislature in 2016, the mid-air collision killed Caleb Hulsey, 26, and his wife Heather Hulsey, 25, of Roebuck, South Carolina; Caleb Hulsey’s brother Mackay Hulsey, 24, and his fiancée Kristin Wright, 23, also of Roebuck, South Carolina; pilot Gregory Bell, 57, of Soldotna; and guide David Rogers, 40, of Kansas.
Mr. Bell, the pilot, was part of a family that owns High Adventure Air Charter, an airplane service that operates out of Longmere Lake in Soldotna, according to the Anchorage Daily News. The company takes guests on fishing, hunting, bear watching, and glacier tours in addition to offering charter flights.
All except one person were pronounced dead at the scene of the plane crash, but that person died in the ambulance on the way to Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna.
Most of the crash debris landed in a wooded area about two miles northeast of the Soldotna Airport.
NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson said the agency recovered the debris and moved it to a facility in Wasilla and stressed that the investigation is in the preliminary information-gathering stages. When investigating aviation crashes, NTSB authorities focus three areas: the human element, the aircraft, and the environment. The weather was clear with good visibility at the time of the crash with broken clouds between 4,500-10,000 feet.
Witnesses often play a critical role in the NTSB’s investigations of aviation accidents, especially if they have video that might contain valuable clues. One witness told the Anchorage Daily News that she heard the airplanes collide and saw one plane explode, falling to the ground as pieces of it fell off.
“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,” said Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Pierce. “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.”
Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation and currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. In addition to his Ethiopian Airlines crash clients, Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.