Community remembers longtime pilot lost in plane crash

Aug 3, 2020

Greg Bell
Credit High Adventure Air Charter

On Friday, the central peninsula was shocked when two small planes collided above Soldotna and killed all seven people aboard. Around 8:30 a.m., a deHavilland Beaver from High Adventure Air Charter on Longmere Lake collided with a Piper PA-12, piloted by state house Rep. Gary Knopp of Kenai, sending both planes down around Mayoni Street just east of town. It’s still not entirely clear what happened, but until it is, the community is mourning the loss.

The pilot of the de Havilland Beaver plane, Greg Bell, had been flying for a very long time. Bell, who was 57, was a co-owner of High Adventure Air, a lifelong Soldotna resident. Friends, colleagues and clients remember a cheerful, skilled pilot and a man of faith.

Gary Fandrei of Kenai took over at Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association in the early 1990s. Back then, he said he flew with High Adventure Air Charter—with Bell or his brother Mark—almost daily.

"He was very, very conscientious, very personable," he said. "He was always aware of what other people’s need were, always wanted to make everyone comfortable."

Bell was born and raised in Alaska, and the charter business was a family endeavor. Over the decades, the company grew and employs nine guides and multiple office staff and pilots. In addition to the bear viewing, transportation and fishing charters, he regularly worked with agencies like the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Cook Inlet Aquaculture. Fandrei said Bell was a leader in his family and business.

"I think Greg is going to be missed not only by the family and the community as well," he said. "It’s unfortunate that this is the way things worked out for him. I wish the family the best of luck."

Sen. Peter Micciche of Soldotna remembered Bell’s dedication to safety and recalled his dedication to a job. On a trip to the west side of the inlet several years ago, Bell was supposed to pick him up, but the wind kicked up. Just as they thought they’d have to wait out the weather, Micciche said they heard a boat motor coming down the river.

"After a little while we hear a little engine, look over and it’s greg in a skiff," he said. "That’s the kind of pilot he was. We all froze to death going back, but he didn’t want to leave us another night in that weather, and he wouldn’t consider taking off in the crosswinds on the river, so he took us all the way up the river to the lake where the yhad some other assets. So you just always knew you were in the best of hands—he would take no chances, he was a gentleman."

He said Bell’s faith was strong and evident, describing him as a “perfect Christian gentleman.” That didn’t stop Bell from being an excellent hockey player, though, he says. Bell will be missed by the community, and Micciche urged locals to support his family in every way they can.

"I ask the community to please do what they can to support the Bell family, his wife and everyone at High Adventure Air are going through a very tough time," he said. "I think I they hear of opportunities to support them, do so, and obviously as well as Rep. Knopp’s family. But it’s a tough time for them."

Bell was flying with five passengers: David Rogers, a guide, and four visitors from South Carolina: Caleb Hulsey, Heather Hulsey, Mackay Hulsey, and Kirsten Wright, all in their 20s. Tributes on social media from various community members and past clients offered prayer s and condolences to the families involved. Gov. Mike Dunleavy offered condolences as well in a Facebook post after the accident, in a separate post after troopers confirmed the identities of everyone killed in the accident.

The Alaska State Troopers and National Transportation Safety Board are collaborating on the investigation into the cause of the crash. The NTSB reportedly went to the scene to collect the parts of the planes and will continue to investigate. Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price offered her condolences to everyone who lost a loved one in the crash Friday, calling it an unfathomable tragedy.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the type of plane to a Piper PA-12.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.