An Alaska State Representative was among seven who died on the morning of July 31, 2020 when two small passenger planes collided in mid-air over the city of Soldotna, Alaska, some 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The mid-air collision, which was reported at approximately 8:30 a.m. local time, involved a Piper-PA12 airplane and de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver airplane. Gary Knopp, a Republican member of the Alaska House of Representatives, was piloting the Piper-PA12. He was the sole occupant.
The de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, designed with pontoons for water takeoffs and landings, had six individuals on board, including the pilot, a sightseeing guide, and four tourists. The Alaska Department of Public Safety identified the six deceased victims as 57-year-old pilot Gregory Bell of Soldotna; 40-year-old guide David Rogers of Kansas; 26-year-old Caleb Hulsey of South Carolina; 25-year-old Heather Hulsey of South Carolina; 24-year-old Mackay Hulsey of South Carolina; and 23-year-old Kirstin Wright of South Carolina. All were confirmed dead at the scene except for one of the victims who died on the way to an area hospital.
According to investigators, Mr. Knopp had taken off from Soldotna Airport while Mr. Bell had taken off from Longmere Lake. Prevailing weather conditions at the time were very good with 10-miles of visibility. At this time, authorities are uncertain of the cause of the midair collision. Throughout Alaska and any area of uncontrolled airpace, general aviation pilots communicate using a common radio frequency to convey their flight intentions. Those communications will certainly be one aspect of the flight that may help to explain the cause of the fatal mid-air collision over Soldotna.
Victims of the AK Mid-Air Collision
Gary Knopp moved to Alaska in the late 1970s. He worked for years as a general contractor and was elected to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in 2006. Mr. Knopp held the position for six years, then was elected to the Alaska State House of Representatives in 2016. He is survived by his wife, Kelly.
Caleb Hulsey and his wife, Heather Hulsey, along with Mackay Hulsey, and his girlfriend, Kirstin Wright, were high school sweethearts from Spartanburg, South Carolina. Caleb worked at Palmetto Sound Works, the Hulsey family’s business. Heather was a teacher in the Spartanburg School District. The couple had recently purchased a home with the hopes of starting a family.
Mackay Hulsey, Caleb’s younger brother, was a personal trainer. Friends said he and his girlfriend, Kristen Wright, had spoken about their plans to marry one day. Wright was recently hired at Pinnacle Hospitality.
Greg Bell was a lifelong Soldotna resident and a longtime pilot. He owned High Adventure Air Charter, which provides bear-watching flights, glacier tours, and shuttles passengers to fishing spots.
David Rogers was a professional wilderness guide from Stockton, Kansas who led adventures on the Alaskan frontier in the summer months and ran his own hunting business back home in Kansas. He is survived by his wife and three children.
What Caused the Soldotna Plane Crash?
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the cause of the collision between two passenger planes in Soldotna. Investigations into general aviation crashes commonly take between 12 and 18 months to complete. Once NTSB officials complete their investigation, they will issue a report on the likely cause (or causes) of the fatal crash in Alaska.
According to veteran aviation attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman, investigators will examine a multitude of issues, including the actions of both pilots (based on flight data and radio communications) and both aircraft to see if any equipment was not functioning properly. One component of interest will be the aircraft ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast), technology that shows an aircraft’s position via satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts it. ADS-B allows aircraft to be tracked and seen by air traffic controllers and other aircraft in the area who benefit through increased situational awareness.
Plane Crash Attorneys with Experience Litigating Alaska Plane Crash Cases
Attorneys from the national law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman have decades of experience litigating cases stemming from aviation accidents, including small plane crashes and sightseeing tour accidents. Our attorneys have litigated several cases stemming from mid-air collisions, including:
- Cessna 130P and Cessna 172N Collision (2009)
- Cessna 172N and Cessna 150M Collision (2008)
- Piper PA-28-180 and Piper PA-44-180 Collision (1996)
- Cessna 182R and Cessna 170A Collision (1996)
- Beech A36 and Stinson 108-2 Collision (1989)
- McDonnell-Douglas DC-9 and Piper PA-28-181 Archer Collision (1986)
- Boeing 727-214 and Cessna 172 Collision (1978)
We have a track record of obtaining justice and compensation for victims of general aviation accidents, including those injured or killed in Alaska plane crashes. To speak with an aviation attorney about your case, call us at (855) 948-5098 or contact us today.