Kenai community remembers longtime pilot killed in plane crash

Greg Bell holds a fish while standing in the water. A pilot and Soldotna resident, he was killed in a plan collision.
Greg Bell, who was 57, was a co-owner of High Adventure Air, a lifelong Soldotna resident. (HIGH ADVENTURE AIR CHARTER)

The central Kenai Peninsula community was shocked on Friday when two small planes collided above Soldotna and killed all seven people aboard.

The crash happened around 8:30 a.m. A de Havilland Beaver from High Adventure Air Charter on Longmere Lake collided midair with a Piper PA-12, piloted by state Rep. Gary Knopp of Kenai, sending both planes down around Mayoni Street just east of town.

It’s still not clear what happened. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. And the community is mourning the loss.

The pilot of the de Havilland Beaver plane was 57-year-old Greg Bell. Bell was a co-owner of High Adventure Air Charter, a lifelong Soldotna resident and a longtime pilot.

Friends, colleagues and clients remembered him as a cheerful, skilled pilot and a man of faith.

“He was very, very conscientious, very personable,” said Gary Fandrei, of Kenai. “He was always aware of what other people’s need were, always wanted to make everyone comfortable.”

RELATED: Kenai legislator and local pilot among 7 killed in midair plane crash

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

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.”

Bell was born and raised in Alaska, and the charter business was a family endeavor.

Over the decades, the company grew. It now employs nine guides and multiple office staff and pilots.

In addition to the bear viewing, transportation and fishing charters, Bell also regularly worked with agencies like the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Cook Inlet Aquaculture, a nonprofit that works to protect and enhance salmon stocks.

RELATED: Knopp remembered as ‘one-of-a-kind leader’ in Alaska

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, Micciche said, Bell was supposed to pick him up, but the wind kicked up. Just as they thought they’d have to wait out the weather, 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 they had some other assets.”

So you just always knew you were in the best of hands — he would take no chances, he was a gentleman,” Micciche said.

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, Micciche said. 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, lawmakers and past clients offered prayers and condolences to the families involved.

The investigation into the cause of the crash continues. 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.

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