Plane crashes of major
American political figures

Since 1970, over a dozen national US political figures, governors, members of congress, and cabinet secretaries, have been killed in plane crashes. Most of these crashes were on private or military aircraft. The following list includes actively serving elected or appointed officials, as well as former politicians who had a relatively high public profile.

  • 9 August 2010; de Havilland DHC-3T Otter; near Dillingham, AK: Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was one of five people killed when an turbine engine, float equipped Otter crashed into steep terrain during a flight from nearby Lake Nerka to a fishing lodge in the Dillingham, Alaska area. The pilot and four passengers, including Stevens, were killed, and four other passengers were injured. One of the survivors was former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe.

    This was not the first fatal plane crash in Alaska involving Senator Stevens. In December 1978, the Senator was one of two survivors of a fatal crash of a Learjet in Anchorage, Alaska. Both pilots and three other passengers, including the Senator's first wife, were killed in the crash.

    The last time that a former US Senator was killed in a plane crash was in April 1991 when former Texas Senator John Tower was one of the 23 passengers and crew members killed in the crash of an Atlantic Southeast Airlines Embraer Brasilia near Brunswick, Georgia. Also killed in that crash was NASA astronaut Sonny Carter.
    Details on Senator Stevens crash

  • 26 October 2002; Aviation Charter Inc.; Beech King Air A100; near Eveleth, MN: Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, along with five other passengers and two crew members, was killed when the Beech A100 (N41BE) he was in crashed just outside the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 175 miles north of Minneapolis. At the time of the crash, light snow and freezing rain was reported in the area. Both the NTSB and the FBI investigated the event, and the NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the flight crew's failure to maintain adequate airspeed, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which the crew did not recover.

  • 16 October 2000; Cessna 335; N8354N; near St. Louis, Missouri: The governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan, along with two others were killed in the crash of a twin-engined private plane about 25 miles (40 km) south of St. Louis. The aircraft had departed from the St. Louis area about 7 p.m. local time and was transporting the governor to a campaign stop in New Madrid, Missouri. The accident occurred at about 7:30 p.m., shortly after the pilot, who was also the governor's son, had reported a problem with one of the aircraft's instruments. The accident occurred at night and there was rain and fog in the area.

  • 2 April 1996; U.S. Air Force 737-T43; near Dubrovnik, Croatia: The aircraft struck mountainous terrain while attempting to land at the airport under conditions of reduced visibility. The flight crew was using an unapproved approach. All six crew members and 29 passengers were killed. Among the passengers were a number of U.S. corporate executives and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown. The aircraft is a military version of the 737 that was used to transport military and civilian VIPs.
    737 plane crashes

  • 19 April 1993; Mitsubishi MU-2B; near Dubuque, IA: South Dakota Governor George Mickelson and seven other occupants were en route from Cincinnati, OH to Sioux Falls, SD, when the propeller on one of the engines had a major failure. The crew was attempting to land the aircraft at the Dubuque, IA airport, but the aircraft crashed several miles short of the aiport, killing all on board.
    Accident summary from the Flight Safety Foundation

  • 5 April 1991; Atlantic Southeast Airlines; Embraer Brasila; flight 2311; near Brunswick, GA: Former Senator John Tower, of Texas, was killed along with his daughter, 18 other passengers, and three crew members. Also killed in the crash was NASA astronaut Sonny Carter.
    Embraer Brasila plane crashes

  • 4 April 1991; Piper Aerostar; near Lower Merion Township, PA: Senator John Heinz, of Pennsylvania, was killed when his plane collided with a helicopter over Merion, PA. The two crew members in his aircraft and the two crew members on the helicopter were also killed. Wreckage from the collision rained down on an elementary school, killing two children who were on the playground during noon recess.

  • 13 August 1989, Cessna 177RG; near Janice, MS: Representative Larkin Smith of Mississippi and his pilot were killed when their aircraft crashed in the DeSoto National Forest in Mississippi while on a flight from Hattiesburg to Gulfport.

  • 7 August 1989; de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter; near Gambella, Ethiopia: Representative Mickey Leland of Texas was killed when his aircraft struck a mountain during a nonscheduled domestic flight from Addis Ababa, Eithiopia to a refugee camp. Leland, the 12 other passengers, and all three crew members were all killed.

  • 17 August 1988; Pakistan Air Force Lockheed C130; near Bahawalpur: US ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel was killed when the his aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff. Also on board were the president of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq, 15 other passengers, and 13 crew members.

  • 1 September 1983; Korean Air Lines 747-200; HL7442; flight 007; near Sakhalin Island, Soviet Union: Representative Larry McDonald of Georgia was killed along with the 29 crew members and the other 239 passengers. The aircraft was shot down by at least one Soviet air to air missile after the 747 had strayed into Soviet airspace.
    International Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors
    747 plane crashes

  • 3 August 1976; Beech 58, near Chillicothe, MO: Representative Jerry Litton of Missouri was killed along with his wife and two children when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff following a power loss on one engine. Litton had just won a primary election for a Senate seat from Missouri, and was on his way to a victory celebration in Kansas City, MO. The pilot and one other passenger was also killed in the crash.

  • 14 February 1975: Representative Jerry Pettis of California was killed when his single-engine plane crashed into a mountain near Beaumont, CA.

  • 8 December 1972; United Airlines 737-200; N9031U; flight 553;Midway Airport, Chicago: Representative George W. Collins of Illinois, three of the six crew members, and 39 of the 54 other passengers were killed when the aircraft crashed during approach.
    737 plane crashes

  • 16 October 1972; Cessna 310; en route Anchorage to Juneau, AK:Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana, who was the House Majority Leader, and Representative Nick Begich of Alaska were lost over Alaska. The two congressmen, the pilot, and the aircraft were never found, and they are presumed to be dead.

Additional aviation related deaths of US state and local politicians are listed at The Political Graveyard.

Related resources
World leaders killed in plane crashes
Celebrity plane crashes
Historical celebrity crashes

Plane crashes involving major American political figures -- Revised: 29 September 2014