The plane had just taken off, a witness said.
A North Dakota state senator, his wife and two of their children died Sunday evening when the small plane they were traveling in crashed north of Moab, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.
Sen. Doug Larsen was piloting the small single-engine plane when it crashed to the ground for unknown reasons about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, shortly after taking off from Canyonlands Regional Airport, authorities said.
Larsen, his wife Amy Larsen and two of their children all died at the scene, Sheriff Jamison Wiggins said.
Wiggins did not provide the names or ages of the two children. Doug Larsen’s legislative biography for North Dakota says he had three children, but preliminary information suggests the third child was not on board.
Tammy Howland, director of Canyonlands Regional Airport, confirmed that the plane took off from a southbound runway around 8:22 p.m. before crashing outside the airport shortly after. A witness told sheriff’s office investigators that the plane appeared to “hit the ground” when it crashed.
Upon arrival, sheriff’s office deputies, firefighters and paramedics determined that the four people aboard the aircraft were dead.
“I was there last night and this is very tragic,” Wiggins said. “It is sad not only for the Larsen family, but also for our first responders. A really tough scene.”
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The National Transportation Safety Board is Investigating the crash, including what might have caused it. Howland said NTSB investigators first arrived at the airport Monday morning.
According to the NTSB, the destroyed aircraft was a Piper Cherokee. Federal Aviation Administration records show Doug Larsen was the registered owner of a Piper Cherokee.
At the time of the crash, the National Weather Service reported clear skies and light winds in the area. Preliminary crash information from the FAA says the plane was destroyed “under unknown circumstances after takeoff.”
“We will look at the man, the machine and the environment,” NTSB investigator Fabian Salazar said Monday. “We will look at the pilot’s maintenance history and experience.”
On Monday afternoon, investigators were still documenting the crash site. Once their work on site is complete, the debris will be moved to a safe location, Salazar said.
In North Dakota, Republican Senate Majority Leader David Hogue sent an email to his fellow senators early Monday informing them of Larsen’s death, The Associated Press reported. Hogue did not immediately respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment Monday afternoon.
“They visited family in Scottsdale and returned home,” Hogue said of the Larsen family in his email, according to The Associated Press. “They stopped in Utah to refuel.”
Salazar could not confirm the Larsen family’s travel plans Monday afternoon, but said that after landing at Canyonlands Airport on Sunday, the family drove briefly into town before returning to their plane, refueling and taking off.
More information on the crash will be available in two weeks, Salazar. A final report may only be published after one year.
Anyone with information about the wreck can contact Grand County Sheriff’s Office investigators.
“He had great things ahead of him”
Larsen, a Republican, represented North Dakota’s District 34, which lies west of Bismarck and includes the city of Mandan, where he lived, according to his legislative biography.
He described himself as self-employed and was elected to the Senate in 2021. According to the biography, he served in the North Dakota Army National Guard for 28 years.
Larsen’s fellow North Dakota lawmakers began offering condolences online Monday morning.
Rep. Matt Heilman, a Republican who represents the state’s District 7, said shortly before noon that he was “incredibly saddened” by Larsen’s death, adding that Larsen was “the first lawmaker I have spoken to about a I spoke about running for office in 2021. He had an outstanding performance. “He got his election results, supported my campaign and was a great man to say the least.”
Rep. Brandon Prichard, a Republican who represents the state’s District 8, wrote: “Doug was a fighter through and through. He had great things ahead of him.”
According to the Associated Press, a bouquet of roses hung above Larsen’s desk in the North Dakota Senate chamber on Monday afternoon, directly above his nameplate.
News of Sunday’s crash drew several media members to Moab on Monday, an unusual sight in the small community outside Arches National Park. The last time authorities investigated a plane crash in the area was about 15 years ago, Wiggins said.
— Tribune staff writer Scott D. Pierce contributed to this report.