Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy confirmed Knopp was one of the pilots involved in the crash between a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver and a twin-engine Piper Aztec. The collision happened approximately two miles northeast of Soldotna’s airport on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.
Dunleavy said in an official statement on Friday, “The First Lady and I wish to express our heartfelt condolences to Representative Knopp’s family as they mourn his untimely passing. 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.”
Born in Whitefish, Montana, Knopp was an experienced pilot and a certified flight instructor before he moved to Alaska in 1979. Before getting into politics, he worked as a general contractor. In 2016, Knopp was elected to the Alaska Legislature and served on the Kenai Borough Assembly. He was a candidate in the upcoming 2020 Republican primary for House District 30. His name will remain on the ballot.
Knopp is survived by his wife, Helen. Before Knopp’s death was confirmed, Helen told the Anchorage Daily News, “I’m as anxious as anybody else waiting for him to touch down,” she said. She has not commented publicly since her husband’s death was announced.
Investigators from the FAA and NTSB are Investigating the Plane Crash Which Left No Survivors
The two planes collided on Friday at around 8:30 a.m. local time, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and it was later confirmed that no one on board survived the crash, as reported by The Daily Mail.
In addition to Knopp, who piloted his plane with no other passengers on board, the other victims include Gregory Bell, 67, who was piloting the other plane, and all of his passengers which included, David Rogers, 40, a tour guide from Kansas, and three tourists from South Carolina; Caleb Hulsey, 26, Heather Hulsey, 25, Mackay Hulsey, 24, and Kirstin Wright, 23.
Rita Geller, a shop attendant at Birch Ridge Golf Course near Soldotna, witnessed the plane crash. She told KTUU News, “The first thing was I heard a really loud, metallic clang. And I looked up and I saw a plane going down and I ran around a tree to get a better look and I could see the plane blowing apart.”
“That just what a horrible, horrible thing I just saw,” Geller said, who noted that she’s praying for the families of all the victims involved. “I’m still kind of shook up by it. I was in shock. My knees felt weak. I couldn’t believe I was seeing that and it reminded me of that shock of 911 that you can’t believe what you’re seeing the plane was exploding.”
According to the Juneau Empire, Clint Johnson, head of Alaska’s division of the National Transportation Safety Board, the NTSB will assist in investigating the crash to determine a probable cause.
Tributes to Knopp Filled Twitter After His Death Was Confirmed
Donna & I are deeply saddened today to learn of the tragic loss of Rep. Gary Knopp. To us, he was a true Alaskan — hard working, dedicated, strong, resourceful, independent & devoted to his community & state. We are holding Helen & his family close at heart & in prayer. pic.twitter.com/Xz0bdJoNok
— Bill Walker (@BillWalkerAk) July 31, 2020
Dunleavy announced the U.S. Flag and the Alaska state flag will be flown at half-staff in Knopp’s honor starting on Friday until Monday evening. Following Knopp’s death, tributes from fellow lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum shared tributes to the late legislature.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, who on June 12, appointed Knopp to serve on the governor’s 911 and Dispatch Consolidation Working Group, said in a statement.“I’m devastated and shocked to learn of the crash that claimed Gary Knopp’s life. 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.”
Senator Tom Begich, a Democrat from Anchorage, said, “Gary was a friend. As a legislator, he was a man of conscience and duty. A person I trusted and cared for, I knew he had the state’s and his constituents’ best interests at heart, always. His wife Helen and his family are all in my thoughts today.”