North Dakota state senator Doug Larsen, his wife, Amy Larsen, and their two young children died Sunday in a plane crash in Utah, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.
The single-engine plane, a Piper PA-28, crashed about 8:20 p.m. shortly after takeoff from Canyonlands Regional Airport near the city of Moab, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The senator, who was an aviation officer in the North Dakota Army National Guard, was the pilot. He and his family were the plane’s only occupants.
The family visited Moab by car after landing and departed after refueling the plane, said Fabian Salazar, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. The cause of the crash is unknown, he told a news conference Monday.
The NTSB is leading the investigation, with a preliminary report expected in two weeks and a detailed report in up to 18 months, Salazar said. The investigation would include the pilot’s history, the aircraft and its maintenance history, as well as the weather, he added.
Emergency services were notified within minutes of the crash and attended a “very tough scene,” Grand County Sheriff Jamison Wiggins told reporters.
“The loss of life, especially with children, that’s the hardest part,” he said.
Larsen, a Republican, was elected to the North Dakota Senate in 2020. He served with the North Dakota Army National Guard for almost three decades, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel, and was mobilized twice, to Iraq from 2009 to 2010 and to Washington from 2013 to 2014, according to a statement from the office of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R).
Larsen’s honors included a Meritorious Service Medal, a Bronze Service Star and an Army Aviator Badge.
Burgum said it was a “heartbreaking loss” and praised Larsen’s “unwavering sense of honor and duty.”
“As a legislator, he was a tenacious advocate for individual rights and the freedoms he defended through his military service,” he said.
Doug and Amy Larsen were owners of a home construction business. Amy Larsen was a board member of the local home builders’ association and was part of the Bismarck-Mandan Professional Women in Building Council, according to a statement from the North Dakota Association of Builders. “They will be greatly missed,” it said.
Larsen’s seat will be up for election next year. Under North Dakota law, the district Republican Party committee is responsible for appointing someone to serve until then.