Plane crash near Moab kills North Dakota state senator, his wife, 2 children

The plane had just taken off, a witness said.

(Doug McMurdo | The Moab Times-Independent) Grand County Sheriff's Office investigator Al Cymbaluk, left, Sheriff Jamison Wiggins, center, and National Transportation Safety Board investigator Fabian Salazar, at a news conference regarding the Sunday plane crash on Monday, Oct. 2, 2023.

Moab • A North Dakota state senator, his wife and two of their children died Sunday night when the small plane they were traveling in crashed just north of Moab, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.

Sen. Doug Larsen was piloting the small single-engine plane when it slammed into the ground for unknown reasons Sunday at about 8:30 p.m., shortly after it took off from the 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 name or disclose the ages of the two children. Doug Larsen’s North Dakota legislative biography states that he had three children, but preliminary information indicates the third child was was not on board.

Tammy Howland, director of the Canyonlands Regional Airport, confirmed that the plane took off from a south-facing runway at about 8:22 p.m. before it soon crashed outside of airport property. A witness told sheriff’s office investigators that the plane appeared to “go into the ground” when it crashed.

Upon arrival, sheriff’s office deputies, firefighters and paramedics determined the four people aboard the plane were dead.

“I was on scene last night, and this is very tragic,” Wiggins said. “It’s sad not only for the Larsen family, but also for our first responders. A real tough scene.”

Senator was refueling in Moab, colleague says

(North Dakota Legislative Assembly) North Dakota Sen. Doug Larsen.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, including what may have caused it. Howland said NTSB investigators first arrived at the airport Monday morning.

The aircraft that wrecked was a Piper Cherokee, according to NTSB. Federal Aviation Administration records show that 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 states the aircraft wrecked “under unknown circumstances after takeoff.”

“We’re going to look at man, machine and the environment,” NTSB investigator Fabian Salazar said Monday. “We’re going to look at the maintenance history, and the pilot’s experience.”

Investigators were still documenting the crash site Monday afternoon. Once their work on the ground is done, the debris will be moved to a secure location, Salazar said.

In North Dakota early Monday, state Republican Senate Majority Leader David Hogue sent fellow senators an email notifying them of Larsen’s death, according to The Associated Press. Hogue did not immediately respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment Monday afternoon.

“They were visiting family in Scottsdale and returning home,” Hogue said of the Larsen family in his email, according to The Associated Press. “They stopped to refuel in Utah.”

Salazar could not confirm the Larsen family’s travel plans Monday afternoon, but he said that after the family had landed at the Canyonlands airport Sunday, they briefly went into town before heading back to their plane, refueling and taking off.

More information about the crash will be available in two weeks, Salazar said. A final report may not be released for more than a year.

Anyone with information about the wreck may reach out to Grand County Sheriff’s Office investigators.

‘He had big things ahead of him’

(Jack Dura | AP) Roses rest on the desk of late North Dakota state Sen. Doug Larsen, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023, in Bismarck, N.D. Larsen, his wife Amy, and their two young children died Sunday in a plane crash near Moab.

Larsen, a Republican, represented North Dakota’s District 34, which is west of Bismarck and includes the town of Mandan, where his legislative biography states he lived.

He described himself as self-employed and was elected to the Senate in 2021. He had served 28 years in the North Dakota Army National Guard, according to the biography.

Larsen’s North Dakota legislative colleagues began sharing condolences online Monday morning.

Rep. Matt Heilman, a Republican representing the state’s District 7, shared just before noon that he was “incredibly saddened” by Larsen’s death, adding that Larsen was “the first legislator I talked to about running for office in 2021. He had a stellar voting record, supported my campaign, and was a great man to say the least.”

Rep. Brandon Prichard, a Republican representing the state’s District 8, wrote, “Doug was a fighter through and through. He had big things ahead of him.”

By Monday afternoon, a bouquet of roses was draped over Larsen’s desk in the North Dakota Senate chamber, according to the AP, placed just above his nameplate.

News of the crash Sunday drew several media members to Moab on Monday, an uncommon sight in the small community situated outside of Arches National Park. The last time authorities investigated a plane crash in the area was about 15 years ago, Wiggins said.

(Doug McMurdo | The Moab Times-Independent) News crews document a news conference near Moab on Monday, Oct. 2, 2023, regarding a plane crash in the area Sunday that killed a North Dakota state senator, his wife and two of their children.

Tribune reporter Scott D. Pierce contributed to this report.