Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, administers the House oath of office to Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, standing next to her husband Eugene “Buzzy” Peltola Jr., center, during a ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. Peltola’s husband Eugene has died in an airplane crash in Alaska, her office said Wednesday. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, administers the House oath of office to Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, standing next to her husband Eugene “Buzzy” Peltola Jr., center, during a ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. Peltola’s husband Eugene has died in an airplane crash in Alaska, her office said Wednesday. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola’s husband dies in plane crash

Eugene “Buzzy” Peltola Jr. was piloting plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in western Alaska.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola’s husband Eugene “Buzzy” Peltola Jr. was killed in a plane crash that occurred Tuesday night, according to officials.

The single-engine Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub crashed shortly after takeoff near St. Mary’s at about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Eugene Peltola, 57, was the pilot and sole occupant.

“The pilot flew a hunter and the hunter’s equipment to a remote location 64 miles away from St. Mary’s,” NTSB spokesperson Sarah Sulick said in a prepared statement. “After leaving the hunter, the plane took off to return and appears to have crashed in an area of remote, mountainous terrain.”

A statement by the Alaska State Troopers notes Eugene Peltola was alive after the crash.

“Two hunters who were at the scene, but not involved in the crash provided medical care to the injured pilot and sole occupant of the plane,” the statement notes. “The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (AK RCC) deployed an Alaska Air National Guard rescue team to the scene, which arrived early in the morning of September 13. The pilot was confirmed to be Peltola who was flying a Piper Supercub that crashed just after departure. Peltola unfortunately died before the rescue team arrived. The rescue team transported Peltola and the two uninjured hunters back to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.

The NTSB and Alaska Army National Guard are investigating the crash, according to Sulick.

“Mary is returning home to be with their family and we ask that their privacy be respected during this time,” a statement by Anton McParland, her chief of staff, noted. “Our team will continue to meet with constituents and carry on the work of the office while Mary and her family grieve.”

Mary Peltola, 50, a Yup’ik from Bethel, became the first Alaska Native elected to Congress last year. She is the first Democrat to hold Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat in nearly 50 years.

Eugene Peltola served as the regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs for Alaska between 2018 and 2022. Before that he spent 34 years working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. He was also co-owner of a company launched in 2022 called Alaska Carbon Solutions.

“He was one of those people that was obnoxiously good at everything,” the statement by McParland noted. “He had a delightful sense of humor that lightened the darkest moments. He was definitely the cook in the family. And family was most important to him. He was completely devoted to his parents, kids, siblings, extended family, and friends – and he simply adored Mary. We are heartbroken for the family’s loss.”

Condolences were expressed Wednesday by numerous politicians, including House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, as well as Alaska Native entities Eugene Peltola worked with.

“Buzzy was a beloved husband, father, and friend to so many, making an impact on everyone he met,” the ANCSA Regional Association, representing the presidents and chief executive officers of the 12 land-based Alaska Native regional corporations, stated in a press release. ”He lived a life of service, dedicated to Alaska Native people and his home of Bethel through his decades-long career in federal service and his years of local government and Alaska Native corporation leadership.”

Dunleavy, in a prepared statement on behalf of himself and his wife, said “Rose and I are shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of Gene Peltola. He was our neighbor in Kotzebue decades ago and our paths continued to cross to this day. I knew Gene as a man who loved his family and put family first. He was smart, funny, hardworking and one of those guys you just enjoyed meeting up with.”

In a subsequent statement Thursday, McParland noted NTSB has briefed the congresswoman’s staff on the status of the investigation.

“We defer all related questions to their team,” he said. “Out of respect for the family’s privacy, our office will not be commenting any further on the investigation.”

McParland said Mary Peltola is with her family and “we want to make sure they get all the messages we are receiving.”

“For those wishing to send condolences, please send them to our district office in Anchorage at 121 W Fireweed Ln Suite 260, 99503,” McParland’s statement noted. “To everyone who has reached out, from Alaska to D.C. and everywhere in between, thank you. You have made a dark time just a little lighter.”

Other political figures have been involved in plane crashes in Alaska. U.S. Rep. Nick Begich and U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs were presumed to have died in the crash of a light aircraft in 1972, with the plane and bodies never found. Former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was among five people killed in a floatplane crash north of Dillingham in 2010, after he left office.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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