A floatplane accident in Homer Tuesday night claimed the life of former Alaska state legislator Cheryll Heinze, who represented Anchorage for one term in 2003 and 2004. As KBBI’s Aaron Selbig reports, federal investigators are unsure what exactly caused the Cessna 206 carrying Heinze and four others to flip over while attempting to land on Homer’s Beluga Lake.
Clint Johnson is an Anchorage-based investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. He says the accident occurred sometime between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. on Beluga Lake, a popular floatplane base located between downtown Homer and the Homer Spit.
The airplane – a Cessna 206 – was carrying four passengers plus the pilot, 71-year-old Evan Griffith of Anchorage. All of the crash victims work for the Matanuska Electric Association in Palmer, where Griffith is general manager and Heinze was director of human resources and public affairs.
Johnson says five passengers are typically not too much weight for a six-seater 206 to handle. He says a pair of NTSB investigators – accompanied by a dive team – arrived at the crash scene Wednesday afternoon, hoping to pull the aircraft out of the water Wednesday evening.
Johnson expects a preliminary investigation on the crash to be finished by next week and a more comprehensive report within six months.
According to the National Weather Service, the official forecast for Homer at the time of the accident called for southeast winds between 15 and 20 mile per hour.
But Mary Ellen Ullrich, who lives on the north shore of Beluga Lake and witnessed the aftermath of the crash, says that wind gusts at the time were quite a bit stronger than that.
Ullrich’s husband Johnny called 911 and soon emergency responders from the Alaska State Troopers, Homer Police Department and Homer Volunteer Fire Department were on the scene, as well as a good Samaritan floatplane that arrived minutes later.
South Peninsula Hospital spokesperson Derotha Ferraro says all the crash victims arrived at the hospital late Tuesday night. Four were treated and released, but Heinze died early Wednesday as she was being prepared for transfer to an Anchorage hospital.
According to her legislative bio, Cheryll Heinze was born October 30th, 1946 in Wewoka, Oklahoma. She held a teaching certificate from East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma and a Bachelor’s Degree from Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Heinze lived all over Alaska, including Tok, Valdez and Talkeetna before settling in Anchorage in 1989, where she established herself as an artist and at one point, owned an antique store on Fourth Avenue downtown.
In 2002, Heinze was elected to the Alaska State Legislature, serving one term representing Anchorage’s District 24.
Homer Representative Paul Seaton worked with Heinze during her time in the legislature, serving alongside her on a handful of committees. Seaton remembers Heinze as a gregarious person with an outsized sense of humor.
Governor Sean Parnell has ordered state flags to fly at half-staff on Friday, July 13th, in honor of Heinze. In a news release Tuesday, Parnell called Heinze – quote – “a dedicated legislator who cared deeply for Alaska.”
Cheryll Heinze is survived by her husband, Harold Heinze, a former president of ARCO Alaska, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and CEO of the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority.
A pair of NTSB investigators – accompanied by a dive team – arrived at the crash scene Wednesday afternoon. Johnson says the team hoped to pull the aircraft out of the water Wednesday evening.