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Former state representative dies in Homer plane crash

Posted: July 11, 2012 - 9:59am  |  Updated: July 11, 2012 - 1:23pm
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Occupants of a crashed float plane stand on the plane moments after the crash.  Photo by Mary Ellen Ulrich
Photo by Mary Ellen Ulrich
Occupants of a crashed float plane stand on the plane moments after the crash.

A former Alaska legislator died in a plane crash on Beluga Lake Tuesday night.

Cheryll Heinze, 65, of Anchorage, was taken to Alaska Regional Hospital, Anchorage, where she died of her injuries. According to an Alaska State Trooper press release, a Cessna 206 floatplane piloted by Evan Griffith, 71, of Anchorage, crashed about 9:40 p.m. Tuesday while landing on Beluga Lake.

Four passengers were on board. All were rescued, but Heinze was critically injured. A pilot in an Emerald Air floatplane was one of the first responders.

Mary Ellen Ulrich, who lives on the north side of Beluga Lake, said she heard the plane hit the water and then saw the Emerald Air plane go to the crash site. Ulrich saw several people clinging to the upsidedown plane. Homer Volunteer Fire Department rescuers responded.

“Right away. They came fast,” Ulrich said.

Heinze was director of human resources and public affairs for the Matanuska Electric Association. She had been traveling to Homer with members of MEA senior staff on the plane.

The other passengers suffered minor injuries, according to a press release from MEA. Griffith is the MEA general manager and owned the plane, said MEA spokesman Kevin Brown, but he did not want to comment on whether the plane was on MEA business or a recreational trip until family members of other MEA staff had been contacted.

Brown also did not want to release their names. Beluga Lake remained closed to floatplane traffic as of mid-morning Wednesday, according to Rick Feller of the state Department of Transportation.

He expected it would stay closed through the day. The plane had stopped briefly in Kenai before heading to Homer from Anchorage, said National Transportation Safety Board Investigator Clint Johnson. Johnson said in his 15 years in Alaska he couldn’t recall another serious floatplane crash on Beluga Lake.

An artist and writer, Heinze represented Anchorage House District 24 in the 23rd Alaska State Legislature. She was elected in 2002 and served in 2003 and 2004. She was married to former Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner Harold Heinze, who also served as the chief executive officer of the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority.

This is a breaking news story and more information will be released as it’s available.

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