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Aviation

Text messages before fatal plane crash near Girdwood reveal new details

This Piper PA-22, registered to Karl Erickson, was photographed at the Girdwood Airport in 2016. It crashed near the Eagle Glacier Aug. 4, 2019. (Photo by Mike Kemp / Air-Britain Photographic Images Collection)

Karl Erickson’s text message came minutes before Sunday’s fiery plane crash that killed him and three other men in the Chugach Mountains above Girdwood.

Retired Arizona art gallery owner Boonie LeBlanc said his adopted grandson, Paul Wiley, was a passenger in Erickson’s Piper PA-22. LeBlanc knew Erickson from their time together in Superior, Arizona, where the Girdwood resident usually spent the winter.

A few days earlier, LeBlanc said, Erickson told him a friend who was a pilot would be at the controls Sunday.

Then a message Erickson sent just before the flight indicated they planned to take Wiley and the other person up for a few minutes, “see some scenery” and then land and drop off the passengers so Erickson, a student pilot, could log some hours toward his license, LeBlanc said.

“That was the last text message from Karl," LeBlanc said Wednesday by phone. “He sent that out to several friends in Girdwood, while he was in the plane taking off.”

Karl Erickson and Boonie LeBlanc. Karl Erickson was aboard the plane which crashed into Goat Mountain, Aug. 4, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Boonie LeBlanc)

The plane crashed in steep, rocky terrain at 5,000 feet on Goat Mountain near Eagle Glacier at around 5 p.m. Sunday. An elite ski team training nearby reported it to authorities.

Karl Erickson. (Photo by Fabian von Imhof)

Erickson was a student pilot, federal records show. Student pilots aren’t supposed to carry passengers if they are flying the plane.

The man LeBlanc identified as flying the plane was a licensed pilot with certificates as a helicopter transport pilot and commercial ratings for fixed-wing aircraft, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database. He also held a flight instructor certification, records show.

The Anchorage Daily News is not identifying the man described as Sunday’s pilot or the other passenger until authorities release their names.

Alaska State Troopers, with help from members of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, retrieved the bodies of all four Tuesday evening. The State Medical Examiner Office was still confirming their identification Wednesday.

Along with working as a health and safety officer, Erickson served with fire departments in Girdwood and Whittier. Officials at Girdwood said they were waiting on official identification before commenting.

Erickson “professed to having his 55th birthday” and was an avid folk-art collector and philanthropist who lived simply but loved to travel and entertain, LeBlanc said. An avid mountaineer, Erickson’s expeditions included Mount Everest. Erickson grew up in Arizona and owned several properties in Superior including commercial and rental units.

Paul Wiley was one of the passengers in the plane which crashed into Goat Mountain, Aug. 4, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Boonie LeBlanc)

The Friday before his death, Erickson closed on a three-story home in Superior, LeBlanc said. He also talked about expanding his more modest Girdwood home this summer.

Wiley, who was 37, was staying in Alaska with Erickson and doing odd jobs. He’d been in Girdwood for two months and was scheduled to return to Superior in late August. He loved four-wheeling and fishing and got to Seldovia in July.

The deaths of LeBlanc’s family member and close friend together came as a shock, he said.

“While my heart is broken for the loss of Paul and my friend Karl, grief is a price we pay for love,” LeBlanc said. “And we can only celebrate the loss of our loved ones’ lives by continuing to live.”

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