ANCHORAGE — Former state Rep. Cheryll Heinze died early Wednesday from injuries she suffered in a small-plane crash in Homer that left four of her co-workers at an electric cooperative with minor injuries.
The Cessna 206 crashed late Tuesday while landing on Beluga Lake.
Heinze, 65, was taken to South Peninsula Hospital in Homer and was being readied for transfer to a larger hospital in Anchorage for treatment when she was declared dead at about 3:30 a.m., South Peninsula Hospital spokeswoman Derotha Ferraro said.
The four others on board, all employees of the Matanuska Electric Association, were treated and released from the Homer hospital, Ferraro said.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the six-seat plane left Anchorage, stopped in Kenai and then continued to Homer, where the pilot, 71-year-old Even Joe Griffith of Anchorage, attempted to land on Beluga Lake at about 10:30 p.m. The plane, a model that is popular in Alaska for sightseeing and traveling in the Bush, was equipped with floats for taking off and landing on water.
“This was a landing accident,” NTSB investigator Clint Johnson said.
He said the plane was floating upside down in the water Wednesday morning and arrangements were being made to have it removed. He also said two NTSB investigators were on their way to Homer.
Johnson said the cause of the accident is not known but there were reports of windy conditions at the time. He said as far as investigators know the plane issued no distress call before crashing.
Mary Ellen Ulrich lives on the north side of Beluga Lake. She told the Homer News that she heard the plane hit the water and saw several people clinging to the overturned plane. She said the Homer Volunteer Fire Department showed up quickly.
Heinze represented Anchorage as a Republican in the state House of Representatives for one term, from 2003 to 2004.
In April 2004, a lobbyist contacted the state Legislative Ethics Office saying Heinze had asked the Matanuska Electric Association for a job. Heinze announced months later that she was withdrawing from the primary and cited health problems and a desire to spend more time with her husband.
She was hired by MEA, Alaska’s oldest and second-largest member-owned electric co-op, several years later as the company’s director of public relations and human resources, MEA spokesman Kevin Brown said.
“She touched every life at MEA so profoundly. We are still in shock,” Brown said.
Griffith is MEA’s general manager and owned the plane, Brown said. The other passengers also were MEA employees.
All four survived with minor injuries, Brown said.
Gov. Sean Parnell ordered that flags be flown at half-staff Friday in memory of Heinze.
“She was a dedicated legislator who cared deeply for Alaska,” he said in a statement.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, released a statement that described Heinz as a “tremendous, accomplished woman” who cared deeply about the state.
“I had the pleasure of serving with her on the Resources Committee during her term in office, and found her to be an engaged, informed and passionate legislator,” Chenault said. “She had a light smile and an easy way about her that made her popular not only inside, but outside the Capitol.”
Democratic state Rep. Berta Gardner, who serves in the same midtown Anchorage seat previously held by Heinze, said Heinze was strongly committed to helping people and making Anchorage and Alaska a better place.
“Cheryl was a very sweet person who worked across party lines to get things done,” Gardner said in a statement.
Heinze also was a talented painter and writer, Brown said.
She was married to Harold Heinze, a past president of ARCO Alaska and former head of the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority. He currently works as an executive project adviser for an MEA power plant project.