Friends, family reflect on life and death of Eugene ‘Buzzy’ Peltola, Jr.

The 57-year-old died in a plane crash northeast of St. Mary’s, according to troopers
Husband of Alaska representative killed in plane crash
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 12:22 AM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 1:49 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Eugene “Buzzy” Peltola, Jr., died doing what he loved.

That was the consensus from family and friends on Wednesday, who described the late husband, father, and stepfather as a charming, adventuresome Alaskan with a propensity for helping others.

“He was just very happy and proud of his family,” said Raeleen Peltola, one of Eugene Peltola, Jr.’s cousins. “He was always there. I always saw him there with his wife, and he always supported her, and he was just a very good person.”

Peltola, Jr. — the husband of Alaska’s lone representative in the U.S. House, Mary Peltola, who last year became the first Alaska Native elected to Congress — died in a plane crash in Southwest Alaska after an emergency signal was received by first responders from northeast of St. Mary’s late Tuesday evening.

Raeleen Peltola said the elder Peltola spent a great amount of time with his uncle — her father, who passed when she was young. She loved hearing his stories of adventure, especially those that included her dad.

“He loved to fly,” she said of Eugene Peltola, Jr. “He loved to go hunting. And I was always so proud of him, to be, you know, that he was my cousin.

“I loved him so much,” Raeleen continued, adding that even though they didn’t see each other often, she valued her relationship with her cousin. “He was a really happy person, always cheerful, always had a smile on his face, and he always loved talking about hunting, and fishing, and flying, and his family.”

Peltola, Jr., was the lone soul on board a Piper Super Cub when it went down shortly after takeoff Tuesday, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. In his death, Peltola, Jr. leaves behind multiple children and siblings, and many friends from around the state.

“Alaska lost a real cornerstone for the future, that would help shape Alaska,” said Alaska Pike Safaris owner Bruce Werba. “We know that for sure.

“We lost a great person, but he passed away doing what he loved so much. And I know he’d still have a smile on his face, wondering what happened.”

Werba’s wife, with whom he runs his guide business, recalled Peltola, Jr.’s friendliness toward all those he met.

“When he was introduced to the clients as Gene or Eugene, he would say, ‘Oh, it’s Buzzy! I prefer Buzzy,’” Connie Werba said. “He’d go like that, real quick.

“Another thing too is he talked of his family every day that he was here. And he would laugh with all the things he was remembering.”

Condolences have poured in from across Alaska all the way to the White House.

The Alaska Federation of Natives, recognizing his advocacy for Alaska Native communities over the past several decades, wrote in a prepared statement via social media that “his work and his legacy will always be remembered.”

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden shared a prepared joint statement Wednesday night, explaining that Rep. Peltola flew back to Washington, D.C., on Air Force One earlier in the week, with “the whole world ahead of her.”

“Today, I spoke with her with that world shattered in shock and sadness,” Biden wrote. “Such a loss is cruel and unfair.

“But we hope you remember that he will always be with you,” he continued. “And we pray the day will come when his memory will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes. It will take time, but that day will come.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan shared similar sentiments Wednesday, expressing condolences and sending prayers for the family. Murkowski described Peltola, Jr. as full of “warmth, generosity and charm,” adding that it’s “easy to see why so many Alaskans called him a friend.”

The Office of Rep. Mary Petola also released a formal, expanded statement Thursday morning, expressing gratitude for the support received from near and far already.

“Alaska is a tight-knit state that relies on planes for basic travel, and so many Alaskans have felt the impact of an accident like this,” wrote Chief of Staff Anton McParland. “That doesn’t make it any less devastating, but it does mean we know how to support one another.

“One particularly touching story came from a young man who told us how Buzzy’s kindness, mentorship, and compelling life stories remind you of all the qualities you might want in a father,” he continued. “I know Mary and their kids would agree. To everyone who has reached out, from Alaska to D.C. and everywhere in between, thank you. You have made a dark time just a little lighter.”

McParland said in his prepared statement that those wishing to send condolences should address them to Rep. Peltola’s district office, located at the address below:

  • 121 W. Fireweed Ln., Suite 260, Anchorage, Alaska, 99503

In a dispatch early Wednesday, Alaska State Troopers said two hunters were at the site where Eugene Peltola, Jr., reportedly crashed. Those hunters attempted to help, the agency said, as they awaited rescue, but it was to no avail.

The NTSB said a preliminary report on the crash is expected within the next few weeks.