Friends remember pilot killed in crash

‘God didn’t make guys like Greg very often’

Kindness. Integrity. An incredible friend.

Those themes kept coming up as friends were asked about Greg Bell, who died in a midair plane collision Friday.

“God didn’t make guys like Greg very often,” Bruce Gabriel, who has known Bell since high school, said. “When he took Greg, he took a big piece of the community. He was woven into the fabric of the community because he cares so much about people.

“That’s why so many people were drawn to him. If you were his friend, you were his friend. I’m glad to have shared the title with so many others.”

Bell is part of the family that owns High Adventure Air Charter on Longmere Lake. Bell, 57, of Soldotna, was the pilot in the single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver that carried five others: 40-year-old guide David Rogers of Kansas, 26-year-old Caleb Hulsey of South Carolina, 25-year-old Heather Hulsey of South Carolina, 24-year-old Mackay Hulsey of South Carolina and 23-year-old Kirstin Wright of South Carolina.

The occupant in the second plane involved was Rep. Gary Knopp, 67, of Kenai.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the crash.

Gabriel graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1979 and Bell graduated from Soldotna High School in 1981. Gabriel said his wife, Danielle, also goes back a long way with Bell.

According to Gabriel, Bell had a strong faith in God. That led to Bell living his life to help others. Gabriel said he was a better person thanks to Bell’s example.

“He was my closest friend,” Gabriel said. “I’d have to say he was the closest friend to a lot of people. He had that type of impact on the community.”

When Bell married his wife, Cindy Rainey-Bell, in Hawaii in 2017, Gabriel performed the ceremony on the beach. Gabriel also has fond memories of hunting with Bell and Bell’s son, Eric. Gabriel’s son, Blake, and Bell’s daughter, Alyse Horton, both graduated from Cook Inlet Academy in 2005.

Gabriel, in his only year at the helm, coached the Cook Inlet Academy boys basketball team to an undefeated season and Class 2A state title in 2005. Bell and Justin Franchino were the assistants.

“I told someone the other day that Justin and Greg did all the heavy lifting,” Gabriel said. “I wouldn’t have been in that position without those two.

“Greg was a man of intense common sense in his approach. You could count on what he said and everyone bought in on the team. That was 15 years ago, but it seems like a couple of months ago.”

Gabriel also said Bell was a great hockey player. The two played together recently in the Rusty Blades League. Gabriel still has fond memories of a trip the league took to Hawaii a few years ago.

“I can’t tell you the scores of any of the games, but I can tell you it was a great trip,” he said.

Gabriel said he spent a lot of time in a plane with Bell, adding that Bell had been flying almost as long as he had been driving.

“I had a conversation with some friends a couple of days before he passed,” he said. “We talked about the fact that Greg was a great pilot and you felt comfortable with him no matter what the conditions were. I wouldn’t say that about a lot of other pilots, but with Greg I certainly would.”

Soldotna’s Larry Nauta filled in as a pilot at High Adventure Air Charter for 10 years, stopping about five years ago. Nauta worked with Greg as well as Greg’s brother, Mark, and Greg’s mother, Sandy. Greg also is the brother of David Bell.

“Greg was a Christian and conducted himself as a Christian,” Nauta said. “He conducted his business in that manner. He was honest and great to his employees as far as making sure everyone followed the regulations.

“There was no short-cutting with him, ever. I found him fair and honest and a really great person to deal with.”

Nauta said Bell’s concern for people extended to his clients.

“He would do his best for clients as long as everything was safe,” Nauta said. “He wasn’t going to push the limits on things. I was very comfortable flying for him.”

Nauta’s wife, Sherry, also is a pilot. Sherry would ride along when Larry would do a check ride, which is like an annual driver’s test, with Bell. After observing the check ride, Sherry said Bell was very thorough but also realistic.

Like others contacted for this story, Nauta couldn’t come up with a specific story about Bell because no matter who he was with — clients, employees or family — he was always the same kind and diligent person.

“It was just very steady,” Nauta said. “There were no ups and downs to speak of.”

Annette and Dan Pankoski have been in a home church group with Greg and Cindy Bell for the past 10 years.

“He was a very kind and very generous man,” Annette said of Bell. “He loved God, he loved his family and he was very good to his friends. He was an excellent human being in all that he did, including his business and flying. It was a privilege to know him.

“We feel terrible for his brother, Mark, his wife, his kids and all that lost him.”

Annette said she mostly knew Greg through the church group, but that Bell remained the same person outside of that group.

“We would take a rafting trip down the Kenai River with friends each year, and he was always willing to lend out a raft and do whatever we needed him to do,” Annette said. “He was very generous when we would come to his home and meet together. He was always very gracious in his speech and actions. He was a very principled man.”

Kevin Spence was the principal of Cook Inlet Academy from 2003 to 2007. Cook Inlet Academy is run by a board. Bell was chairman of that board when Spence was hired from out of state.

“He’s very personable,” Spence said. “He’s the nicest guy. He’s very concerned about people and that’s what made him a good guide. He made sure everybody was having a good time, that they were set.”

Spence said he would go to Bell with questions about Soldotna.

“I didn’t know a lot about it when I got here,” Spence said. “He’s a really good friend and I’m going to miss him terribly.”

In recent years, Bell and Spence kept in touch by refereeing basketball games together.

On the day of the crash, Sen. Peter Micciche posted, in part, on his Facebook page: “Greg Bell was a dedicated Christian, family man and community member. I have flown with Greg and never felt to be in better, more safety-focused hands while in the air.”

Spence said Micciche had it right.

“In the Micciche post, the very first thing he mentions is that he was a committed Christian,” Spence said. “He lived it out by seeking to invest in other people and that’s what made him a good coach and a good guy in whatever he did with other people.

“That’s what made him a good friend.”

A fundraiser has been started on gofundme.com for Rogers’ wife, Rhonda, and his family to help cover travel and funeral expenses. The fundraiser can be found by searching “David Rogers Obituary” on gofundme.com.

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