Families of Soldotna plane crash victims sue estate, widow of Rep. Gary Knopp

Mar 4, 2021

Rep. Gary Knopp
Credit Office of Rep. Gary Knopp

This story was last updated Thursday evening.

The families of four passengers killed in a mid-air crash last summer are suing the estate of Gary Knopp, the former Alaska state representative who was piloting the plane that collided with theirs.

Representatives for Kristen Wright, Caleb Hulsey, MacKay Hulsey and Heather Hulsey, all of South Carolina, filed two separate federal lawsuits today against Knopp’s estate and his wife, Helen Knopp.

Both suits also target the estate of Gregory Bell, the charter pilot who also died in the crash, and the two companies that owned and operated the charter plane, High Adventure Air Charters and Soldotna Aircraft & Equipment Leasing.

Knopp’s private plane collided with the charter plane carrying Wright and the Hulseys above Soldotna last July, killing Knopp and all six on board the charter. Caleb and MacKay were brothers; Wright and Heather Hulsey were their partners.

The National Transportation Safety Board later found that Knopp was denied a medical certification from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2012 because of vision problems. FAA regulations require a medical certificate to fly.

That’s outlined in the complaint attached to one of the lawsuits, filed by William Hulsey, who’s the father of the two brothers, according to an online obituary. The other lawsuit was filed by Wright’s parents.

William Hulsey’s complaint alleges that Knopp was negligent in his operation of the aircraft because he was flying without a valid medical certificate. It also alleges negligence against Helen Knopp, saying she knew or should have known about her husband’s vision problems.

Mike Schneider is the lawyer for the Hulseys. He said it’s more efficient to make claims  against all the defendants at once rather than one by one.

“Both of these pilots had an obligation to see and avoid each other. Both had some opportunity, as we understand the facts, to do that," he said.

Last summer, officials said an investigation into the crash could take a year or more.

A third suit was filed in Anchorage Superior Court court last week against the Knopp estate on behalf of the estate of David Rogers, a Kansas guide who also died in the crash, and his wife Rhonda Rogers. 

That suit does not target Gregory Bell or the charter plane operators. Attorney David Gross says Rogers settled with those parties late last year. He says the details of the settlement were confidential.

Bell and Helen Knopp couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.