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Husband of Rep. Mary Peltola dies in Alaska plane crash

Congress has seen tragic plane accidents in the state over decades

Rep. Mary Peltola, hugs her husband during a swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol last year. Gene Peltola died after a plane accident, the congresswoman's staff announced.
Rep. Mary Peltola, hugs her husband during a swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol last year. Gene Peltola died after a plane accident, the congresswoman's staff announced. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Eugene Peltola Jr., the husband of Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, died after a plane he was flying crashed in a remote part of Western Alaska, officials said Wednesday. 

The congresswoman was in Washington and is returning to Alaska to be with family, according to a statement from her chief of staff, Anton McParland.

“He was one of those people that was obnoxiously good at everything. He had a delightful sense of humor that lightened the darkest moments. He was definitely the cook in the family. And family was most important to him,” McParland wrote. “He was completely devoted to his parents, kids, siblings, extended family, and friends — and he simply adored Mary. We are heartbroken for the family’s loss.”

A single-engine Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub crashed shortly after takeoff around 8:50 p.m. local time Tuesday night, according to preliminary assessments from the Federation Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, which are investigating the incident. The pilot was the lone passenger and had just dropped off a hunter about 64 miles northeast of St. Mary’s, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said at a virtual press conference. 

Two hunters who were on the scene but not involved in the accident provided medical care, but Peltola died before an Alaska Air National Guard rescue team arrived early Wednesday morning, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety. The cause of the accident remains unknown. 

Mary Peltola became the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress and the first woman to represent her state in the House when she won an August 2022 special election to succeed the late Don Young. She then won a full term in the November general election.

Alaska has a history of plane crashes involving current and former politicians and their families.

In 1972, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, D-La., and Alaska Democratic Rep. Nick Begich were headed to Juneau from Anchorage for a campaign event when their Cessna disappeared. Both men were presumed dead, and neither the plane nor its four passengers were ever recovered. 

Begich’s grandson, Nick Begich III, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican in the special election that Peltola ultimately won. His son, Mark Begich, was mayor of Anchorage and narrowly defeated Ted Stevens, then the longest-serving Republican senator, in Alaska’s 2008 Senate election.

Less than two years later, Stevens and several others died when their plane crashed north of Dillingham, Alaska, en route to a private fishing lodge. Stevens had survived a 1978 plane crash in Anchorage that killed his wife and other passengers.

Eugene Peltola served as regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Alaska until his retirement in 2022. He was also a co-owner of a company launched in 2022 called Alaska Carbon Solutions.

Many of Peltola’s congressional colleagues shared their condolences and memories of “Buzzy,” as Eugene Peltola was known to friends and family.

“I can’t fathom the pain and heartache, but your colleagues mourn with you and are ready to assist in any way,” House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “We send you love and solace as you navigate this shocking loss of your beloved Buzzy.”

“Anyone who met Buzzy felt his warmth, generosity and charm,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote. “It was easy to see why so many Alaskans called him a friend, and how he was so loved by his family.”

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