NEWS: Husband of Rep. Mary Peltola Is Killed in Plane Crash, Officials Say
The husband of Representative Mary Peltola, Democrat of Alaska, died on Wednesday morning after the single-engine plane he was flying crashed shortly after takeoff in a mountainous area of southwestern Alaska, officials said.
The congresswoman’s office said in a statement that Ms. Peltola, 50, would return to Alaska as she and her family grieved the death of Eugene Peltola Jr., 57, who was known as Buzzy.
“He was one of those people that was obnoxiously good at everything,” Ms. Peltola’s chief of staff, Anton McParland, said in the statement. “He had a delightful sense of humor that darkened the lightest moments. He was definitely the cook in the family. And family was most important to him.”
The Peltolas have seven children and stepchildren, her office said.
The F.A.A. said in a statement that the plane, a Piper PA-18, had crashed shortly after takeoff near the small city of St. Mary’s, in southwestern Alaska along the Yukon River, around 8:45 p.m. on Tuesday.
Only the pilot, Mr. Peltola, was on board, the F.A.A. said. The agency said it was investigating, along with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The N.T.S.B. said the plane had “crashed under unknown circumstances.”
Mr. Peltola had flown a hunter and the hunter’s equipment to a remote area 64 miles northeast of St. Mary’s, the safety board said. After dropping off the hunter, the plane took off and “appears to have crashed in an area of remote, mountainous terrain,” the board said.
The N.T.S.B. said its investigators and members of the Alaska Air National Guard were responding to the scene.
F.A.A. records indicate that Mr. Peltola had been issued a commercial pilot’s license in 2004 and was certified to fly single-engine aircraft. Records indicate that the plane he was flying was registered to Bruce Werba of Alaska.
In a brief interview on Wednesday, Mr. Werba confirmed that he was the owner of the plane and a friend of Mr. Peltola’s. He declined further comment.
In a statement on Wednesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, a Republican, said: “Rose and I are shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of Gene Peltola. We will be praying for Mary, their children, and all of the Peltola family. Gene’s dedication to Alaska ran deep, and he will be dearly missed.”
In 2018, Mr. Peltola, who was of Yup’ik and Tlingit descent, was appointed regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Alaska, according to the Interior Department. In that role, he helped to oversee services for 227 federally recognized Alaska Native tribes, the department said.
Before taking that position, Mr. Peltola had worked for more 34 years for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. From October 2010 to September 2012, he also served as vice-mayor and was a council member for the city of Bethel, Alaska.
Ms. Peltola, who had represented the Bethel region in the Alaska State Legislature, won Alaska’s lone House seat in August 2022 in a special election to finish the term of Representative Don Young, a Republican who died in March of last year.
Her victory, which flipped the seat for Democrats for the first time in 50 years, was considered an upset against Sarah Palin, the former governor and vice-presidential candidate, who was also in the race. Ms. Peltola became the first Alaska Native woman to serve in Congress.
In November, Ms. Peltola secured a full two-year term in the seat. She defeated two of her Republican rivals from the special election — Ms. Palin and Nick Begich III, who is part of a prominent Democratic political family in Alaska — as well as Chris Bye, a libertarian.
On the campaign trail, Ms. Peltola had sought to highlight her Native roots in a state where more than 15 percent of the population identifies as Indigenous. As a Yup’ik woman, she said she used the teachings of her community in her broader appeals for bipartisanship.