State Lawmaker, 6 Others Die in 'Unfathomable Tragedy'

2 planes collide over Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, killing Rep. Gary Knopp
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 1, 2020 5:30 AM CDT
State Lawmaker, 6 Others Die in 'Unfathomable Tragedy'
In this Jan. 16, 2017, file photo, Gary Knopp sits in his office at the Alaska Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.   (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

Seven people, including an Alaska state lawmaker, died Friday when two small airplanes collided in midair near Soldotna, a small community on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Alaska State Troopers said state Rep. Gary Knopp of Kenai, believed to be in his early 60s, was the sole occupant of one plane. The other plane was flown by a local pilot and carried a guide from Kansas and four people from South Carolina, per the AP. The two planes collided about 2 miles northeast of the Soldotna Airport, per the FAA. "This is an unfathomable tragedy for multiple families today," Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price said. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the fatal accident, which occurred just before 8:30am.

Witness Rita Geller said she started running when she heard the planes hit and watched one fall to the ground. "I ... basically saw it explode," she told the Anchorage Daily News. "It was horrific." Troopers say six of the seven people were pronounced deceased at the scene of the accident; the seventh person died while being transported to a hospital. Besides Knopp, troopers identified the other six people killed as pilot Gregory Bell, 57, of Soldotna; guide David Rogers, 40, of Kansas; and Caleb Hulsey, 26; Heather Hulsey, 25; Mackay Hulsey, 24; and Kirstin Wright, 23, all of South Carolina. Knopp was first elected to the state House in 2016 and served for years before that on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. "The first lady and I wish to express our heartfelt condolences to Rep. Knopp's family as they mourn his untimely passing," Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement.

(Read more Alaska stories.)

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