A crash involving two planes near Soldotna killed seven people, Alaska State Troopers disclosed on Friday afternoon. Sixty-seven year old Gary Knopp, a Republican member of the Alaska House of Representatives, was piloting one of the aircraft that crashed and was the sole occupant, a media release from the Alaska Department of Public Safety said.
The other aircraft in the mid-air collision was carrying six people who were identified as 57-year old pilot Gregory Bell of Soldotna, 40-year old David Rogers, 25-year old Heather Hulsey, 26-year old Caleb Hulsey, 24-year old Mackay Hulsey, and 23-year-old Kirstin Wright, all from South Carolina.
Knopp's colleagues confirmed his death, saying they were very sad to hear the news. "I am devastated to learn of the crash that claimed Gary's life," House Speaker Bryce Edgmon disclosed in a statement, as quoted by Ella Torres as saying in an ABC News report.
The National Transportation Safety Board is now conducting a probe on the fatal accident, which took place just before 8:30 a.m. Rita Geller, who works at a golf course near the airport, stated that she started running when she heard the aircraft explode and watched one fall to the ground.
According to Geller, the plane's engine "were flying off of it... I saw lots of debris flying around. It was just like 9/11," Mark Thiessen quoted her as saying in her Associated Press story posted on USA Today.
Authorities disclosed that the air collision, between a single-engine Havilland DHC2 Beaver and a Piper PA12, occurred around two miles northeast of the Soldotna Airport, which is roughly 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.
All of those who were confirmed dead at the scene of the crash except for one person who sustained injuries while being taken to a hospital, the department said.
Local authorities were looking into the cause of the crash and it was not immediately clear which aircraft hit the other, Clint Johnson, director of the Alaska regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said. Pilots use a common radio frequency to convey their intentions and that'll be one of the aspects the authorities will investigate, he said.
Knopp was born in Montana and he moved to Alaska in 1979, according to the Alaska House Majority. Knopp was elected to represent House District 30 in 2016. Rep. Steve Thompson called him "one of the nicest guys" he has ever met. Little information was known about the other victims, although five of them were from out of state.