Rep. Mary Peltola's husband dies after plane crash in Southwest Alaska

Sep. 13—This story has been updated with additional information about the crash from the Alaska Department of Public Safety and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Alaska U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola's husband, Eugene "Buzzy" Peltola Jr., died after a plane he was flying crashed Tuesday night in Southwest Alaska.

Mary Peltola is flying home from Washington, D.C., to be with their family, Peltola's office said.

Alaska State Troopers were notified of the crash about 64 miles northeast of the village of St. Mary's around 8:50 p.m. Tuesday, according to a statement from the state Department of Public Safety. Federal aviation authorities earlier identified the plane as a single-engine Piper PA-18 Super Cub and said it crashed in mountainous terrain near St. Mary's.

Peltola had flown a hunter and equipment to a remote location before the crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane crash occurred "just after departure," according to state public safety officials, who said Peltola was the only person on the plane. Two hunters at the scene of the crash provided medical care, but Peltola died before a rescue team arrived early Wednesday, they said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the crash.

An emergency locator transmitter registered to Peltola was activated, authorities said. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center deployed an Alaska Air National Guard rescue team, which arrived at the scene early Wednesday. Peltola's body was brought to Joint Base Base Elmendorf-Richardson, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Peltola, 57, was the former regional director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for Alaska, serving in that position from 2018 to 2022. He previously spent 34 years working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. Among other roles, he served as vice mayor and council member for the city of Bethel between 2010 and 2012 and sat on various Alaska Native village corporation organizations.

Peltola held a commercial pilot certification originally issued in 2004, according to an FAA database. The plane that crashed was not registered in Peltola's name.

A statement from Rep. Peltola's chief of staff, Anton McParland, described Buzzy Peltola as "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. 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."

Peltola's office staff will continue to meet with constituents "while Mary and her family grieve," McParland said.

News of Peltola's death spread quickly Wednesday morning.

The Alaska Federation of Natives issued a statement on social media saying Peltola's work and legacy "will always be remembered."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a social media post that she was "shocked, saddened and truly beyond words to express my grief at the loss of Gene Peltola Jr. 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."

Sen. Dan Sullivan said in a social media statement that he is mourning "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."

Gov. Mike Dunleavy also shared condolences.

"He was our neighbor in Kotzebue decades ago and our paths continued to cross to this day," a statement from Dunleavy said. "I knew Gene as a man who loved his family and put family first. He was smart, funny, hardworking and one of those guys you just enjoyed meeting up with. He dedicated his career to public service."

This is a developing story and will be updated.