The pilot of Saturday’s fatal plane crash south of Haines is being remembered as an outgoing and smart adventurer with friends across Southeast Alaska.
David Kunat, 29, died when his Piper Twin Comanche crashed on takeoff about 11 a.m. Saturday at the unpaved Glacier Point airstrip about 10 miles south of Haines, acccording to Alaska State Troopers reports. Also killed was California resident Stanley Su Quoc Nguyen, 29. Chan Valentine, 31, was injured in the crash.
Members of the family said it was not clear whether Kunat’s aircraft was taking off from the airstrip, and witnesses interviewed by the Chilkat Valley News also gave a different version of events.
Regardless of the circumstances, friends and family said the crash killed someone special.
“God broke the mold when he made that man,” said one of Kunat’s friends about him.
Kunat was one of five children raised by Janusz “Jan” and Elzbieta “Ela” Kunat in Gustavus.
Janusz and Elzbieta immigrated to the United States from Poland in the 1980s, and David spoke Polish and English fluently, even living in Poland for a time.
Kunat’s parents did not return a phone call to their Gustavus home, and many of Kunat’s friends declined to speak on the record before his family had a chance to talk.
In an advertisement on a popular couchsurfing website, David shared his background as a pilot and traveler, writing that he once sailed from Hawaii to Alaska and enjoyed skydiving and scuba diving.
Lucas Baranovic, one of Kunat’s close friends, wrote in an email to the Empire: “David was always very outgoing and adventurous; the amount of stories that I could tell would fill up a book. David had a very carpe diem personality. Whenever he got an idea, he would call you up and say, ‘Let’s go have a great adventure!’ … David was a true friend, who was supportive and cared for others in all their endeavors and pursuits. His loss leaves a huge hole in the lives of all of the people who were so lucky to call him a friend. He lived more in his short lifetime than most of us will live in all of our time here.”
While he enjoyed his adventures, Kunat had a business-minded side as well. After graduating from Gustavus School in 2005, he became a member of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Rural Alaska Honors Institute and attended various Alaska and Hawaii schools before entering business.
According to state records, he founded two businesses, but his main line of work was as a systems administrator and director for Byte Networking in Juneau.
That company provides computer and Internet support in Southeast, and Kunat was involved with efforts to bring high-speed broadband to rural Alaska communities.
A Byte Networking employee who answered the company’s phones on Monday said news of Kunat’s death “still hasn’t quite hit us. We’re still kind of in that shock phase.”
He added that the company will continue to operate.
In January, Kunat had become engaged to Staci Climie, a state employee in Juneau.
Climie didn’t respond to the Empire’s contact requests, but on Facebook said the couple hadn’t shared their engagement with many people yet.
“I love David so much. I cannot believe this is real, I’m wishing this is just a terrible nightmare. I will miss him so much,” she wrote in a public comment.
Chan Valentine, who survived the crash, was Kunat’s coworker at Byte Networking. After being medevaced to Bartlett Regional Hospital, he was flown to Seattle for additional treatment.
His girlfriend, Amy George, flew to Seattle to be with him. She said he has undergone hip surgery and will undergo wrist surgery to repair broken bones, adding that he is in good spirits.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have flown to Southeast as they investigate the accident.
According to witness accounts given to Alaska State Troopers, Kunat’s plane was taking off from the Glacier Point airstrip, traveling south to north, when it made a hard right turn to the east, toward Lynn Canal, when it appeared to stall and crash.
Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Temsco Helicopters responded to the accident, as did good Samaritans.
The Chilkat Valley News, Haines’ hometown newspaper, reported late Monday that a local family, a tour guide and a visitor from Yakutat used heavy equipment to keep the plane’s wreckage above the rising tide, saving Valentine.
The unpaved Glacier Point airstrip is small enough that it doesn’t show up on the FAA’s aeronautical charts, but it is a popular destination for tourists and visitors to Haines and Skagway.
At the Haines airport, 10 miles north, the weather was clear and 52 degrees, with a southeast wind of 8 mph.
So far this year, six people have died in Alaska plane crashes, according to NTSB records and media reports.
Editor’s Note: The following was emailed to the Empire after the initial publication of this story. It comes from Miloslawa “Mia” Kunat, one of David Kunat’s four siblings. It has been reproduced in its entirety.
This is something that I sat down and wrote for my brother. I posted it on Facebook because I wanted to, even though this sounds funny, for him to be able to see it. I think it describes accurately how our family feels.
You were an amazing human being. Your heart was bigger than anyone could ever even imagine. You cared deeply for so many people. I am having a hard time trying to figure out why this happened to you. But as they say, when you go into a garden which flower do you pick? The prettiest one. You were just an angel that was called back home. Even though I miss you, I know you will always be right here with us. We will hold you in our hearts till the end of time. Everyone’s life is precious and amazing, but your’s was beyond what words can describe. You have the brightest spirit that shines through the heavens onto us. Now you get to come with us on every adventure that we take. I may not be able to physically hug you, but I feel your spirit holding me so that I can make it through this. You are my brother and best friend. Wherever you are right now, you better be waiting for me because when I get there I want a ride. So for the rest of eternity, we can hang out and do crazy stuff together. And by then I’m sure you will have conquered that world. I am still hoping this is one of your crazy jokes and you will show up with a grin on your face and yell a loud “Just kidding!” Just for kicks, and since you can’t remind me anymore, you are awesome. I love you. I love you so much.
Your sister Miloslawa
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from a previous version with information provided by the family.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or call 419-7732.