SOLDOTNA, AK (WSPA/AP) – Seven people have died after two planes collided in mid-air in Alaska, including four people from the Spartanburg area on vacation.
According to Alaska State Troopers, the planes collided shortly before 8:30am over Sterling Highway just northeast of Soldotna, around 100 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Troopers said the majority of the wreckage from the crash landed around 200 yards away from the highway.
The sole occupant of one of the planes, 67-year-old Alaska State Representative Gary Knopp, was killed while all six people aboard the second plane were killed.
Alaska State Troopers said the six people on the second plane included 57-year-old pilot Gregory Bell of Soldotna, 40-year-old guide David Rogers of Kansas, and four South Carolina residents: 26-year-old Caleb Hulsey, 25-year-old Heather Hulsey, 24-year-old Mackay Hulsey, and 23-year-old Kirstin Wright.
7 News has confirmed that the South Carolina victims of the crash lived in the Spartanburg area.
The victims included two children, Caleb and Mackay, and a daughter-in-law, Heather, of Spartanburg business owner Alan Hulsey and his wife Heather. Hulsey owns Palmetto Sound Works.
The fourth South Carolina victim, Kirstin Wright, was the girlfriend of Mackay Hulsey.
Spartanburg County School District Six released a statement on Facebook Saturday morning, saying Heather Hulsey was a Dawkins Middle School art teacher.
The District Six family is heartbroken after learning that a Dawkins Middle school art teacher, Heather Hulsey, passed away in a plane accident during a trip to Alaska. Heather was an inspiring teacher who had a tremendous impact on her students and colleagues. She was a wonderful person who was well-loved by our school community. Heather’s husband, Caleb Hulsey, his brother Mackay, and friend, Kirstin Wright, also passed away. The Hulsey family is strongly connected to our District Six family. This is a tragedy beyond words. We ask that you keep their families in your thoughts and prayers.District Six Superintendent Dr. Darryl Owings
Bell was one of the owners of High Adventure Air Charter in Soldotna, which offers bear viewing adventures, fishing and hunting trips and glacier tours, according to its website.
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.”
The Federal Aviation Administration 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 NTSB later tweeted the second plane was a Piper PA-12.
The two planes collided approximately 2 miles northeast of the Soldotna Airport, the FAA statement said after crash.
The FAA sent two investigators to the crash site, which is about 150 miles (241 kilometres) southwest of Anchorage.
“This is an unfathomable tragedy for multiple families today. The DPS sends a heartfelt condolence to all who lost a loved one in this mid-air collision,” said Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price.
“Troopers and partner agencies have worked together diligently at the scene and have reached out to next of kin to notify them of this heartbreaking incident.”