Knopp had unacceptable vision, was denied medical clearance for piloting - Must Read Alaska
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Thursday, May 13, 2021
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Knopp had unacceptable vision, was denied medical clearance for piloting

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Rep. Gary Knopp, who died in a midair collision on July 31 some 2.5 miles from the Soldotna Airport, had been denied medical certification eight years earlier in June 2012 by the Alaska Regional Flight Surgeon due to unacceptable vision issues. The denial was appealed and sustained in July 2012. 

Why the late lawmaker’s vision was not corrected with glasses is not known, but certainly will be a line of investigation for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is trying to piece together the events that led to the crash.

Not having a medical certification could have something or nothing to do with the accident, but it’s like driving a car without a valid license.

The midair collision led to the death of seven people, including Knopp, who was piloting his own Piper PA-12, which struck a de Havilland DHC-2 (Beaver) airplane, with six souls aboard.

The DHC-2 was operated as an on-demand charter flight. The PA-12 was operated as personal aircraft.

According to the NTSB report, the float-equipped DHC-2, operated by High Adventure Charter, departed Longmere Lake in Soldotna, bound for a remote lake on the west side of Cook Inlet. The purpose of the flight was to transport the passengers to a remote fishing location.

Knopp’s plane departed Soldotna Airport, bound for Fairbanks. Knopp was flying in an “experimental airplane,” as rated by the FAA and was not subject to stringent FAA standards.

Knopp’s plane’s N number was not valid, however. The word “EXPIEREMENTAL” was applied to the inside of the lower clam shell door, an FAA requirement so passengers on such planes know that they are experimental.

A search of the FAA registration database revealed that the registration number had been reserved by Knopp but was not a valid registration. His registration number on the aircraft was for twin engine aircraft, but the PA-12 he was flying was a single engine.

The entire report is at this link.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • He should not have been flying. His selfishness led to all those deaths.

    • We’ll “see”. But probably a lot of truth in your statement.

    • “Selfishness”- the exact word that popped into my head.

      • We have to rely on autopsy reports on each pilot and NSTB reports. Those things take time. I did not personally know any of those who lost their lives and will withhold my thoughts and opinions. I believe in judge: not least ye be judged

    • You have no idea what caused the accident.

      • Sure we do! The two pilots assuredly failed to see see other in time to avoid a collision.

      • How many times did he fly BEFORE this accident? You have no idea of the facts about the accident. Point is clear, he should not have been flying according to the _minimal_ restrictions created and sustained over decades of flight.

  • Yet another example of Gary Knopp’s stubbornness and lack of sound judgment. I hope Gary left this earth with a good liability insurance policy on his aircraft. Otherwise, his wife’s largest nightmare is soon to be realized.

  • They won’t pay if he was breaking the law.

  • Not a ‘chop shop’ airplane, was it? ‘N’ number like a stolen license plate. With Mr. Magoo piloting? What could possibly go wrong? I am not deliberately trying to be facetious, but didn’t Mr. Knopp have a few more ‘shady’ words and actions as a false ‘representative’ of his Alaskan constituents? Did karma beget? The innocent souls who had their meeting with the grim reaper, due to someone’s improper actions, would not think much of Knopp’s disdain for pilot required criteria. A terrible way to lose a terrible representative of the people.
    May God rest his and the victims’ souls.

  • Well, it seems from the information I’ve seen so far, that this pilot may not have taken care of his A/C and himself. The details of the investigation will hopefully provide the facts. My late husband and I were avid Alaskan pilots for many years, and we took care of every detail to keep our certificates current and our aircraft well-maintained. It was then up to us and Divine providence to stay safe. His family’s nightmare will happen for sure if aircraft inspections, documentation, paperwork, licenses, and medical certification were not in compliance. So sad for the loss of lives.

  • Doesn’t surprise me at all.

  • You misspelled “EXPIEREMENTAL”.

    • It was misspelled on the airplane just like that.

      • Purposely misspelled shows intent to deceive. What would a PA-12 possibly be modified to in order to be considered “experimental?” It may have been done in order for Knopp to skirt a standard FAA registration. If Knopp couldn’t pass a flight medical exam, then the FAA wouldn’t allow him to fly. “Experimental” might draw attention away from him so he could get up in the air. But this would have demonstrated deceptive behavior on Knopp’s behalf. By comparison, John Denver was flying a true experimental craft when he went down in Monterey Bay. Knopp’s PA-12, at least from the photos, looked like a factory aircraft.

    • You mis-identified yourself.

  • Suzanne, Have you no decency at all. Leave it be. The faa will come out with their reoort in due time.

    • “No decency” is lying to your entire community, selling out your unsuspecting voters and later shirking the very serious medical requirements of piloting a plane. He was a fraud lawmaker and he exited the world while taking the lives of several innocents. That’s news. And we deserve to know what happened as it evolves.

    • Stick your head back into the sand.

    • News, Gunner. Aircraft crashes are always news. Politicians who are involved in them are also news.

      It’s malpractice not to cover this kind of event. The victims of the crash need closure, and the press shedding light on it helps to ensure that closure happens.

    • Decency? Suzanne reported what was merely made public!

      • Julie,
        Gunner is just another radical, Left-wing hate troll, harassing Suzanne.
        They’re easy to spot.

    • Seems I jumped the gun here in accusing the blogger. I was not aware this report came from the ntsb and other news outlets . I am sorry Susan for that accusation. However, I still feel we need to wait for the final report before pointing fingers.

      • Gunner, we appreciate your admission that indeed Suzanne was simply reporting the news and not blogging, as you put it, with selfish abandon. As for waiting for the final report, our mainstream news might have saved a few bonfires around the nation if they would also wait for the final report before pouring gasoline. Ferguson, Missouri comes to mind as one of our first examples of what not to do. But it seems no lessons were learned there. Gasoline is poured weekly and we are too weak to challenge premature unsubstantiated news, unless a left leaning person reputation might be tarnished. Then it seems we have been taught to justify or deny it.

  • You have veered from partisan to just plain evil in a matter of weeks. Get help.

    • I know they shut off the comments, but the ADN has the same story. Are they “evil” too for reporting the facts?

    • This is news. Get a grip. This man made a life out of posing as something he wasn’t. Regardless the circumstances of this crash and the killing of several innocent visitors and one experienced pilot is absolutely newsworthy. Grow up. Suzanne is the last real reporter we have in Alaska.

    • “Plain evil”? I just read some facts above. Tragic? Yes. Any conclusions drawn? Not yet. I will admit a couple of the following comments were mean spirited. But, sensitive “Anchorage Reader,” I don’t think Suzanne became evil, let alone partisan.
      Examples of evil abound in speeches and reports that blame Republicans for multi-decade Democrat-run cities that are now burning. Partisan? Yup. Convincing people to NOT address their own city leaders but instead, blame other leaders for their own burning city? That is evil. Let’s make sure we have good examples of that word when it is used. That’s plain smart.

    • Get a grip snowflakes – Gunner and Anchorage Reader.
      Gary Knopp was plain evil, not Must Read Alaska. Many families lost loved ones and are grieving because of Gary Knopp’s selfish actions. He clearly knew he was not legal to fly after losing his appeal. You are going to defend that selfishness by attacking the messenger of the news?
      My deep sympathies to everyone affected.

    • Yours is a well rehearsed and useless critical remark. Never type again.


      When two of the slowest airplanes in the sky collide it’s reasonable to suspect pilot error. If one of the two pilots has the Stevie Wonder thing going on; it was him.

    • Anchorage Reader is another Left-wing kook, with no game except name-calling. If you can actually read with comprehension, go examine the FAA’s Alaska crashes. Read the reports involving “pilot error.”
      These pilots were killers. Poor judgment, rule violators, selfish individuals, show-offs. All contributing factors to aircraft fatalities. Sound like Knopp?

  • Man not qualified to fly aircraft. Man not fly aircraft. Aircraft not there to be involved in crash. No one dies. Anything else is but a contributing factor.

    • …not there…

  • It’s sad that she will most likely lose everything. They won’t insure or cover you if you lose your license and have an accident. They could even go as far as charging her with manslaughter since she knew he was going to fly without a license. Since he didn’t have corrective lenses, my guess is cataracts. I’m not happy with the arrogance of this man since I knew the pilot of the other aircraft.

    • My condolences to your friend, Christine. Knopp should not have been behind the controls of any aircraft. And he should not have been in the Legislature.

  • The news makes itself. Suzanne reports it.
    .
    .
    Sadly, Gary’s vision in many respects was inadequate.

  • If this all turns out to be true, what a sad legacy to leave behind.

  • The Estate of Gary Knopp is going to end up being zeroed-out. Mrs. Knopp will have to file bankruptcy, or she will be wiped out financially by lawsuits from the deceased and the flight business that operated the other aircraft. All of his remaining assests will probably be liquidated to compensate the relatives of the deceased.Gary flew by the seat of his pants, choosing to go up with invalid medical and FAA clearances. He also flew by the seat of his pants in the Legislature. He ended up hurting many lives along the way.

    • Judie…….he actually ending up killing innocent people with his recklessness.
      A selfish man indeed.

  • The report will come out. I pray it doesn’t make a sad story end even sadder, although it looks that way..

  • The well established pattern of behavior to lie catches up with crooked politicians and lawyers when physics are involved.

    I feel sorry for Knopp’s victims but hope his family is on the hook for his malfeasance.

  • People fly with glasses all the time. Would be interesting to know how and why the medical ticket was denied and if the vision was correctable. Cheers –

    • You are correct. People even fly into space with glasses. Corrected vision is acceptable. He must have had some other kind of medical issue it’s like dizziness from afib or something like that. Regardless, he made a poor choice and violated the law and paid for with his life and took others to the grave with him so his estate is going to have to pay for that.

  • Some small aircraft, because of their color, blend into a cloudy ski making them difficult to see sometimes. When flying in uncontrolled airspace with no restrictions on your heading or altitude it is up to the pilot to see and avoid other aircraft. I cannot think of any other activity where good vision is so important.

  • Goofy people do goofy things in all aspects of their lives.

  • I’m a 69 year old pilot and wear glasses. I would not dare fly a plane, drive my car or even ride my bicycle without my glasses. My vision is blurry without my glasses.

  • I’m a pilot too. I always bring two pair of glasses into the cockpit, in case one pair falls off and can’t be reached quickly. The spare pair are always in my front pocket.

  • His recklessness cost him and many others dearly. He was a fraud. His legacy is now this tragedy and his betrayal of Alaska overall.

  • Thanks for the guts to simply give the news, Suzanne. I am sure you knew that the left-wing haters would do what they always blindly do. Reward comes to those who love truth – no matter how long it takes. Loss comes to those who love deception – no matter how long it takes. If we step outside the range of mercy when we are engaged in the latter, it gets expensive.

  • EXPIEREMENTAL
    This one misspelled word written on the side of an illegal airplane flown by an arrogant low IQ narcissist who was also piloting this airplane illegally and then killed 6 innocent people pretty much sums up Knopp’s life in one nonsensical and meaningless word.

    • “Experimental” is a classification of aircraft that the FAA does not regulate per ordinary standards in civilian aviation. Here, Gary Knopp used deceiptful methods so that he could fly his PA-12 without risk of being grounded by the FAA. However, without proper medical clearances, he was still not legally able to get his wheels off of the ground. It seems that this last chapter in Gary’s life was another act of fraud and deceipt. His PA-12 was NOT experimental. Only, this time, his deceipt cost the lives of 6 innocent people. The lawsuits are going to roll and I feel very sad for Mrs. Knopp who has the heavy burden to live through the destruction caused by her selfish husband.

  • It’s difficult to know what the medical action was without privileged information. The vision standards for non-commercial operations are 20/30 with correction and correct color perception (and a few other things). He might have just failed without correction, and never went back with it to retest. It’s just hard to tell.

    The NTSB report says that he owned a factory built PA-12 (Piper Super Cruiser – a single-engine Cub derivative) registered as N2587M with a standard airworthiness certificate. But the accident airplane was also a PA-12 marked with a registration of N1904T, and placarded “experimental”.

    That labeling suggests that the airplane was owner-constructed and intended to be operated as Experimental-Amateur Built (or what we sometimes call a “homebuilt”). The registration number was paid and reserved by Knopp for an under-construction aircraft. It was once used on a PA-23-250 (Piper Aztec – a small twin engine airplane), but cancelled in 2009. Knopp reserved the registration number in 2016; one could assume he did this for the airplane he was building, to later receive an experimental amateur-built airworthiness certificate once ready to fly.

    Thing is…the airplane he was flying was painted with the N1904T registration, but carried the paper FAA registration slip for N2587M – apparently his other “certified” airplane. It suggests that he never applied for an airworthiness certificate (or conducted the required flight tests) for the homebuilt he was apparently flying. Why it was carrying the other airplane’s registration is unclear.

    Attorneys for the clients aboard the chartered DHC-2 are going to have an absolute heyday with the evidence of a collision cause by a medically deficient pilot of an apparent legally unairworthy aircraft.

    • It’s like changing the license plates on one car and putting them on another so it appears that the car is legal. No one would know, unless a cop pulls you over. Illegal!

  • Steve C:
    Based on what you have just stated, wouldn’t your conclusion be that Knopp was using the registration numbers off of his other aircraft in order to show that the “experimental” aircraft was certified to fly? Isn’t that fraud?

    • If he’d repainted the registration numbers (the “N” number) on the experimental/homebuilt to match those of the certified airplane, then I’d say yes. But he didn’t; he apparently just stuck the registration in the wrong airplane. Since he owns both aircraft, there’d be no apparent advantage.

      (I am curious as to the state of the other airplane, and especially it’s airworthiness certificate. Is the other airplane a pile of parts, or together? Does it still have a serial number dataplate? Was its airworthiness certificate in the homebuilt also? Both the registration and airworthiness certificates are federally-required documents to be kept in the aircraft while in operation. Nothing about this was stated so far, but the NTSB will likely look into it over time. )

      I get the sense that Knopp simply didn’t want to bother with the testing and paperwork headaches to make his experimental/homebuilt legally airworthy. He just flew it. That would match the pattern of not caring about the medical certificate either.

      • Thanks Steve. Good summation. His other plane was a twin engine Beechcraft, from what I was told.

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