BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota lawmaker who died in a plane crash along with his wife and two young sons had recently received his commercial pilot’s license with hopes of one day working for a major airline, a Senate colleague said.
State Sen. Doug Larsen, his wife Amy and the two children died Sunday in a plane crash near Moab, Utah. The plane crashed shortly after taking off from Canyonlands Airfield near the desert recreation town, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. The senator was the pilot, according to the sheriff’s office.
Peggy Steimel, Larsen’s sister, identified the sons as 11-year-old Christian and 8-year-old Everett.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, with a preliminary report expected in two weeks.
FAA records show that Larsen’s single-engine Piper PA-28-140, popularly known as a “Cherokee,” was built in 1966. Its airworthiness certificate was renewed this past June through 2030, indicating it had passed a safety inspection. The Piper Cherokee family is one of the most widely produced planes in general aviation, with a reputation for reliability.
The weather at the time of the crash was mild, with scattered light showers, wide visibility and gentle winds in the area around the airport, according to the National Weather Service. Aerial video posted by KSL-TV of Salt Lake City, Utah, showed the plane went down in a desert area, devoid of vegetation, and sustained extensive damage to the nose area and right wing. It came to rest upright.
Larsen flew Black Hawk helicopters as part of his 29 years of military service with the North Dakota Army National Guard, according to Republican state Sens. Jim Roers, a longtime licensed pilot, and Mike Wobbema, a retired military aviator.
A Guard spokesman said Larsen had logged about 1,776 total military flight hours.
Roers said Larsen had recently earned his commercial pilot’s license, and had received at least one job offer from commuter airlines, with a goal of flying for a major airline due to his passion for flying. An FAA record shows a pilot with the same name and similar flight experience as Larsen had obtained a commercial pilot certificate on Sept. 15.
Roers said he and Larsen connected over “our love of aviation,” and discussed earlier this year “the potential for him to become a commercial pilot, and he absolutely embraced the idea.” Roers said he introduced Larsen to a veteran United pilot and trainer and gave him advice.
Larsen worked through steps toward the license, according to Roers, who called Larsen “very proficient” and “a very detailed, confident” person from his military training.
“I knew that his path to becoming a commercial pilot was going to be a short journey because of all of the previous experience that he had and the love for aviation that he had,” Roers said.
In the North Dakota statehouse, Rep. Paul Thomas and Sen. Cole Conley offered tributes to Larsen on Tuesday before a routine meeting of an interim study committee of the Legislature. The room observed a moment of silence for the Larsen family.
Thomas and Conley both entered the Legislature in 2020 with Larsen, a fellow Republican, and recounted their early days at the Capitol with him.
Thomas commended Larsen’s service to others, including his family and friends and his North Dakota National Guard career.
“Sen. Larsen was what we all here aspired to be as servants to our members and our district as well as our friends and family,” Thomas told about 20 lawmakers gathered for the meeting.
Conley said Larsen loved to host events, inviting colleagues to his home in Mandan, and cooking tacos, chili and other meals for Senate caucus meetings. Larsen also once offered to find Conley a car when his broke down.
Republican Senate Majority Leader David Hogue in an email to fellow senators on Monday that said the Larsens were returning home from visiting family in Scottsdale, Arizona, and had stopped to refuel in Utah.
Larsen represented a district encompassing Mandan, which neighbors Bismarck to the west across the Missouri River. He chaired a Senate panel that handled industry- and business-related legislation.
Larsen mobilized twice, to Iraq from 2009-10 and to Washington, D.C., from 2013-14, according to the governor’s office. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Service Star and Army Aviator Badge among other honors.
He and his wife owned businesses that included a hotel and a home-building company.
District Republicans will appoint a successor to fill out the remainder of Larsen’s term, through November 2024. Party Chair Sandi Sanford said an appointment will probably come after funeral services, “out of respect.” Larsen’s Senate seat is on the ballot next year.
Gov. Doug Burgum and legislative leaders are preparing to convene the Legislature in Bismarck after the state Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a major budget bill of the state government, calling it unconstitutional in containing multiple, unrelated items in violation of the state Constitution’s single-subject requirement.