The late Rep. Gary Knopp, who died in a midair plane collision last July in Soldotna, had been denied a medical certificate by the FAA numerous times. He had diagnosed glaucoma that impaired his field of vision, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The report confirms an earlier report by the NTSB that revealed some of the same information, but this time in greater detail.
The NTSB has released new details about the July 31, 2020 collision that also took the life of the pilot of the other plane, Gregory Bell, and his passengers. Knopp’s Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser aircraft hit Bell’s deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver near Longmere Lake. There were no survivors.
Knopp was flying without medical clearance, as he had been denied his required medical certificate due to his eyesight several years earlier. He had glaucoma, which was diagnosed in 2011, and had had surgery on his right eye for a cataract in 2012.
“In March 2012, the FAA received an eye evaluation report from the Piper pilot’s ophthalmologist. In this report, the ophthalmologist noted that the Piper pilot had medically controlled open-angle glaucoma with visual field loss in both eyes, had undergone previous laser surgery for glaucoma in both eyes (left eye September 24, 2010, and right eye October 8, 2010), and required ophthalmology followup every 4 months,” the NTSB reported.
The Alaska Regional Flight Surgeon sent a denial letter to the Knopp onJune 18, 2012. The letter stated that the Knopp did not meet the general medical standards for first-, second-, or third-class medical certification. Knopp requested reconsideration. The FAA received an ophthalmological evaluation for glaucoma form from Knopp’s ophthalmologist, dated July 2, 2012. This form again noted the open-angle glaucoma diagnosis, with reduced visual fields in both eyes.
“Based on that form, and on the rest of the Piper pilot’s FAA medical certification file, the Aerospace Medical Certification Division sent another denial letter to the Piper pilot, dated July 23, 2012,” the NTSB reported.
The families of the deceased passengers from the other plane are suing the Knopp estate, claiming that Knopp “committed negligent acts and/or omissions” by operating an aircraft without a valid medical certificate. The suits also claim Knopp’s widow Helen knew her husband was not supposed to be solo piloting.