Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, talks to the media about his nomination for Speaker of the House in this February 2019 photo. Knopp died July, 31, in a plane crash near his home town. (Michael Penn/ Juneau Empire File)

Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, talks to the media about his nomination for Speaker of the House in this February 2019 photo. Knopp died July, 31, in a plane crash near his home town. (Michael Penn/ Juneau Empire File)

State Rep. Gary Knopp killed in plane crash

Plane crashed near Soldotna

this story has been updated to reflect new information.

By MARK THIESSEN

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — Alaska state Rep. Gary Knopp was killed in a mid-air collision of two planes near Soldotna on Friday, the Alaska House Majority said in a statement.

Alaska State Troopers would not confirm Knopp’s death beyond saying the mid-air collision near the airport in Soldotna was a fatal crash.

The two planes collided near the Soldotna Airport Friday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. Wreckage came down near Sterling Highway, briefly closing the thoroughfare.

Officials have not released how many people were on board the two planes or the extent of injuries.

Rita Geller, who works at a golf course near the airport, said she started running when she heard the planes hit, and watched one fall to the ground,

“I ran to more of a clearing and basically saw it explode,” she told the Anchorage Daily News. “The engine, things were flying off of it. I didn’t see the second plane, but I saw a lot of debris flying around. It was horrific. It was just like 9/11.”

Tributes began pouring for Knopp soon after the news broke. Gov. Mike Dunleavy immediately ordered U.S. and state flags to be lowered to half staff and to remain in that position of honor until sunset Monday.

“The first lady and I wish to express our heartfelt condolences to Rep. Knopp’s family as they mourn his untimely passing,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “Throughout his 42 years on the Kenai Peninsula, Gary became well known as an avid outdoorsman, a skilled pilot, and a dedicated public servant. His presence will no doubt be missed by those he faithfully served.”

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham said he was shocked and devastated upon hearing of Knopp’s death. “Gary was a one-of-a-kind leader and a true Alaskan who worked tirelessly for his district in the Legislature. He will be missed by many.”

Senate President Cathy Giessel, a Republican from Anchorage, called it “a heart-breaking tragedy. More than a legislator, Gary Knopp was a husband, father, son, brother, grandfather,and friend. He will be tremendously missed.”

Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak said Knopp was not only a colleague, but a close friend. “I’m heartbroken and devastated, and thoughts are with Gary’s wife, Helen, and his entire family.”

The FAA initially said the two planes involved were a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver and a twin-engine Piper Aztec, However, the FAA later said it did not believe the second plane was a Piper Aztec, but it had not yet confirmed the make and model of the airplane involved.

The two planes collided in mid-air approximately 2 miles northeast of Soldotna Airport, the FAA statement said after the 8:30 a.m. crash.

Alaska State Troopers on scene were feeding information back to a National Transportation Safety Board investigator in Anchorage immediately after the crash, said Clint Johnson, head of the NTSB’s Alaska division.

The FAA sent two investigators to the crash site, which is about 150 miles southwest of Anchorage on Kenai Peninsula.

The NTSB will investigate the accident and determine a probable cause.

Knopp, a Republican, left the House GOP caucus and served in a coalition of Democrats, independents and GOP lawmakers that made up the House Majority. That left the remaining House Republicans in the minority.

Knopp faced two Republican challengers in the Aug. 18 primary. A message sent to the state Division of Elections to see if Knopp’s name would remain on the ballot was not immediately returned.

Knopp was first elected to the state House in 2016, and served for years before that on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

He was born in Whitefish, Montana, in either 1956 or 1957, various media outlets report. He moved to Alaska in 1979, where he eventually settled in Kenai. He worked as a general contractor.

His hobbies included flying , diving, hunting, golfing “and enjoying life in general at home on the Peninsula,” according to his legislative biography.

This is an Associated Press report.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Participants in a pro-choice abortion rally gather outside the Governor’s Residence on Saturday to demand a pro-life flag flying at the entrance be taken down. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Pro-choice abortion protesters march to Governor’s Residence to demand removal of pro-life flag

Rally on second anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision also focuses on fall election.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read