Funeral pays tribute to North Dakota lawmaker and family lost in Utah plane crash

Oct 10, 2023, 2:35 PM

white plane in pieces on dry brown terrain...

The wreckage of a plane crash that killed a North Dakota family as seen from the air in KSL TV's Chopper 5. (Chopper 5)

(Chopper 5)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Mourners gathered at a red-brick church in North Dakota on Tuesday for the funeral of a state lawmaker and his family who were killed in a plane crash last week, describing a selfless couple whose young boys inspired people around them.

State Sen. Doug Larsen, his wife Amy and their two sons, 11-year-old Christian and 8-year-old Everett, died on Oct. 1. Their single-engine aircraft went down near Moab, Utah, shortly after stopping to refuel on the way home from a family gathering in Arizona.

The plane was piloted by Larsen, 47, who flew Black Hawk helicopters and mobilized twice during his 29 years with the North Dakota Army National Guard. A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash is expected sometime next week.

Four Black Hawk helicopters in missing-man formation flew through a cloudless autumn sky as the family was laid to rest at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery.

During the earlier church service, mourners sang “How Great Thou Art” as the four caskets were wheeled to the front of the sanctuary. A military honor guard escorted Doug Larsen’s flag-draped coffin.

His sister, Rebecca Hoglund, said Doug “wanted to help out where he could” — whether it was a fellow American stranded in France who he met backpacking in the 1990s, or a tiny kitten on the side of the road.

“He was by my side for some of my hardest times in life,” she said, “for major surgeries, to the death of a child, to my career changes and my house flooding, and the list goes on and on.”

Chantel Southam said her sister Amy was an empathetic and patient addiction counselor who made a difference for children, including Chantel’s niece.

“She just could walk in people’s shoes,” Southam said. Amy is survived by her adult son Dylan Stevens, who was listed as a casket bearer.

North Dakota state senator, wife and 2 kids killed after small plane crashes north of Moab airport

Teacher Marleigh Buechler called Christian “an extraordinary student and person” who gave 110% to his relationships, academics and friendly competitions.

“I admired the way that at such a young age, he was able to appreciate the differences in people. He would often discuss with me and our class that if we were all the same, the world would be a boring place,” Buechler said.

Everett’s speech pathologist, Anne Bry, said the 8-year-old had worked hard to overcome childhood apraxia of speech, going from not speaking at age 3 to speaking in good sentences as he entered kindergarten — “confidence to speak” because of his parents’ support.

“He was the most amazing, sweetest little boy who fought so hard in his life to speak, and by golly we did it,” Bry said.

Larsen, a Republican, was elected to the North Dakota Senate in 2020. He chaired a Senate panel that handled industry- and business-related legislation.

Doug and Amy Larsen owned businesses that included a hotel and a company that builds homes. Larsen had recently earned his commercial pilot’s license, with hopes of one day flying for a major airline, state Sen. Jim Roers told The Associated Press.

A lieutenant colonel, Larsen was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Service Star and Army Aviator Badge, among other honors. He logged about 1,776 total military flight hours, according to a Guard spokesperson.

Federal Aviation Administration records show that Larsen’s Piper PA-28-140, popularly known as a “Cherokee,” was built in 1966. Its airworthiness certificate was renewed in June through 2030, indicating it had passed a safety inspection. 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.

Mourners have left flowers on Larsen’s Senate desk at the state Capitol since the crash. Fellow lawmakers gathering for routine meetings at the Capitol have also observed moments of silence for the Larsens and offered remembrances. Dozens of state lawmakers attended the funeral.

District Republicans will appoint a successor to fill the remainder of Larsen’s term, through November 2024. His Senate seat is on the ballot next year. Larsen represented a district that encompassed Mandan, the city across the Missouri River from Bismarck.

A large photo of the Larsen family will be placed in the Senate chambers through the 2025 legislative session, said Senate Republican Caucus Leader Kristin Roers. Larsen’s Senate desk will be kept empty during an expected, upcoming session of the Legislature, and his appointed successor will sit elsewhere, she said.

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Funeral pays tribute to North Dakota lawmaker and family lost in Utah plane crash