Rep. Mary Peltola’s husband dies after Alaska plane crash

Eugene Peltola Jr., Mary Peltola’s husband, on Nov. 8, 2020. (Rhonda McBride/KNBA)

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola’s husband, 57-year-old Eugene “Buzzy” Peltola Jr., died awaiting rescue after the plane he was flying crashed Tuesday in remote Western Alaska, according to officials.

Anton McParland, Mary Peltola’s chief of staff, said in a statement posted on her social media accounts that she was returning to Alaska to be with her family after the crash.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Eugene Peltola Jr. was the pilot and sole occupant of a Piper PA-18 Super Cub that crashed under “unknown circumstances” around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Peltola had flown a hunter and the hunter’s equipment to a remote location 64 miles away from the Western Alaska village of St. Mary’s.

“After leaving the hunter, the plane took off to return and appears to have crashed in an area of remote, mountainous terrain,” said the statement from NTSB spokesperson Sarah Sulick.

Weather in the area at the time was reported as roughly 10 mph wind out of the northwest and overcast skies, according to the National Weather Service.

Alaska State Troopers said Peltola initially survived the crash, and was cared for by two hunters at the crash site.

The NTSB says the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson received a satellite signal from the plane’s emergency locator transmitter at 8:48 p.m. Tuesday and deployed an Alaska Air National Guard rescue team, which arrived at the scene early Wednesday.

“The pilot was confirmed to be Peltola who was flying a Piper Supercub that crashed just after departure,” troopers said in an online report. “Peltola unfortunately died before the rescue team arrived. The rescue team transported Peltola and the two uninjured hunters back to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.”

Troopers said Peltola’s body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said Wednesday that a specialized team was en route from Washington, D.C., to Alaska to investigate the crash. It included representatives from aircraft manufacturer Piper and engine maker Lycoming, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration.

NTSB meteorologists will be gathering weather reports from the area, according to Homendy. Investigators will also examine the aircraft’s origin and destination, as well as whether Peltola was flying the plane on a private flight, she said.

a man and woman hug
Mary Peltola hugs her husband, Gene Peltola Jr., as results are tallied on Aug. 31, 2022. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Condolences and remembrances for Eugene “Buzzy” Peltola Jr. poured in Wednesday.

He “was completely devoted to his parents, kids, siblings, extended family and friends, and he simply adored Mary,” said McParland, the congresswoman’s chief of staff. “We are heartbroken for the family’s loss.”

Peltola was born in Bethel. He is Tlingit and Yup’ik and a member of the Orutsararmiut Native Council.

He could always be found behind the scenes as his wife campaigned to become the first Alaska Native woman to serve in Congress. But he was a trailblazer in his own right.

Peltola worked for more than three decades for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in Bethel, eventually to become the first Alaska Native to oversee the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Later, he served as regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Alaska. Through much of his career, he advocated for subsistence hunting and fishing.

He retired last summer, as his wife was running for office. He recently joked that he was adjusting to his new job as “arm candy” to the congresswoman.

In addition to being a prolific subsistence harvester, Peltola was an avid sports hunter and fisherman, a hobby he pursued all over the globe. His Facebook page includes photos of a 2017 hunting trip in Spain with his daughter.

The ANCSA Regional Association described Peltola as a “beloved husband, father, and friend to so many, making an impact on everyone he met.”

“He lived a life of service, dedicated to Alaska Native people and his home of Bethel through his decades-long career in federal service and his years of local government and Alaska Native corporation leadership,” said a statement from the association

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowksi said “anyone who met Buzzy felt his warmth, generosity and charm.”

“It was easy to see why so many Alaskans called him a friend, and how he was so loved by his family,” she posted on social media.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy both said in social media posts that they were shocked and saddened to learn of Peltola’s death.

“Today, we mourn the tragic loss of Gene, and offer Mary and her family our heartfelt prayers for strength and consolation in this time of unspeakable loss and grief, and know that Alaskans across our great state are doing the same,” Sullivan said.

“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,” Dunleavy said.

two people stand in front of the flag
Just after being sworn in on the floor of U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Mary Peltola stands with her husband, Eugene Peltola Jr., for a ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13, 2022. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News)

Alaska has a history of plane crashes affecting the state’s congressional delegation, including the 1972 disappearance of a small plane in the Portage area carrying then-U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, the father of late NPR journalist Cokie Roberts, and U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, former Sen. Mark Begich’s father. Begich’s aide, Russell Brown, and pilot Don Jonz were also on board.

Alaska’s longest-serving U.S. senator, Ted Stevens, was among five people killed when a floatplane crashed north of Dillingham in 2010.

Stevens’ first wife, Ann Stevens, and four others were killed in a plane crash in Anchorage in 1978. The senator was injured but survived.

Mary Peltola was elected to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Don Young, who died of natural causes in March 2022 aboard an Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle.

The congresswoman’s staff will continue to operate her office and meet with constituents while the family grieves, McParland said.

Watch the full NTSB media briefing on the crash:

Reporters from Alaska Public Media, KYUK and KNBA contributed to this story.

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