Big Fourth of July holiday excitement came early to the tiny community of Halibut Cove on the tip of Alaska Kenai Peninsula when Alice Rogoff – the owner of Alaska’s largest newspaper, the wife of one of the country’s richest men and a float-rated pilot – Saturday smashed her plane in the harbor.
Multiple sources say Rogoff was at the controls of one of her two Cessna 206 aircraft when it clipped an eagle-nest tree and then smacked down on the water. The float-equipped, single-engine plane landed hard enough to cause damage that led to its sinking, but there were no reports of injuries.
Rogoff often has a professional pilot in the seat of the plane while she takes the copilot seat, but on this occasion she apparently ferried herself to the Cove either for the wedding of former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell or the 91st birthday of revered former state Sen. Clem Tillion or both.
Both events were underway in the Kachemak Bay hideaway on the weekend.
Treadwell is now head of PT Capital, an Alaska-based private equity firm started by Rogoff. Rogoff’s husband, billionaire David Rubenstein, is famous as one of the founders of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm which manages $178 billion in global assets including part of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Rubenstein was not with Rogoff when the plane crashed.
The Rogoff-Rubensteins live almost entirely separate lives. His home is on the East Coast. She lives in a mansion along upscale Campbell Lake in Anchorage where she keeps her airplane tied to a dock in the front yard. She proudly showed it off to President Barack Obama when he showed up for a private dinner there late last summer.
A relative newcomer to the 49th state, Rogoff formed a strong bond with Tillion in an effort to raise her Alaska cred. Part of her motivation for becoming a “Bush pilot” appeared likewise tied to image. The plane played a big role in a profile of Rogoff that appeared in her once-hometown newspaper – “The Washington Post” – almost exactly a year ago.
“Since her first visit to Alaska in 2001, the intensely private businesswoman and philanthropist has spent more and more time here, starting an arts foundation, buying a house, earning a pilot’s license to more easily traverse the immense state, purchasing a Web site, establishing an organization to address Arctic Circle issues, then buying the former Anchorage Daily News,” wrote reporter Julia Duin.
The arts foundation, which was primarily funded with grants from the state of Alaska, has since folded. But Rogoff has taken wing in the north, becoming a Kitchen-Cabinet advisor to Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and something of an Alaska celebrity as publisher of what is now the Alaska Dispatch News and as an Iditarod pilot.
— Update: The Anchorage Press has a photo of the plane being airlifted out of Halibut Cove by helicopter. The press says it’s headed for Anchorage, but the plane is at this time reported to be parked behind a berm at a far corner of the Homer airport.
With Rogoff in Nome at the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Duin wrote that “Rogoff had spent nine days piloting her single-engine Cessna 206 from village to village as her reporters covered 70-plus mushers crossing the state.”
On that occasion, she’d also had a professional pilot alongside her in the cockpit. She was reportedly without that assistance when the plane crashed Saturday evening. It is unknown whether anyone else was in the aircraft at the time.
Details remain very sketchy, but multiple witnesses say the plane hit a tree on approach to the Cove. One witness provided this description:
“Right about 6 pm, as we were starting dinner, we heard a plane entirely too close to our house and looked out the window. The plane was coming straight for our dining room table.
“I’m told Alice was landing, but I didn’t see that part. She bounced hard on the water (on her first try) and back into the air. From what we saw, she couldn’t get the altitude at that point to clear our house and turned so sharply the plane’s wings were nearly perpendicular to the water. We could see the top of the plane and both wings as it disappeared from our sight after the pop.
“The pop sound must have been when she clipped the eagle tree.”
The witness was of the opinion Rogoff was trying to avoid crashing into the house and was extremely thankful for that.
Halibut Cove is a small, tight-knit community and no one contacted there Monday wanted their name used for fear of causing community conflicts, but the stories they told were all similar.
Rogoff was reported to have been able to walk away from the crash and was apparently planning to stay in the Cove for the Fourth of July. There were reports several feet of the eagle tree was clipped off by her plane. It is illegal to damage an eagle tree, but the eagles haven’t been nesting in this one for a while and Rogoff has connections that should be able to keep her out of any trouble for that.
This is not Rogoff’s first airplane accident. Earlier this summer, she clipped a horse barge in the Cove with the prop of her playing while taxiing. A professional pilot had to get special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to ferry the damaged plane back to Anchorage for repairs.
Rogoff had another incident at Merrill Field in Anchorage where she kept her 206 when AlaskaDisaptch.com operated out of a hangar there. In the incident, a tow-bar used to pull the airplane out of its hanger was left attached to the front wheel. It bounced up and damaged the propellor of the plane on takeoff, but no one was injured.
Dispatch.com was a feisty internet start-up that co-founders Tony Hopfinger and Amanda Coyne grew big enough to cause concern for the already struggling Anchorage Daily News owned by the California-based McClatchy Company.
Rogoff subsequently opened negotiations with McClatchy for the purchase of the Daily News and bought the state’s largest newspaper and website – ADN.com. She renamed the Dispatch the Alaska Dispatch News in order to retain the ADN.com acronym.
She is now locked in a lawsuit with Hopfinger, who says that he sold her interest in Alaska Dispatch to Rogoff for approximately $1 million just before the ADN purchase, but got paid only $100,000. He has a signed and dated cocktail napkin from Rogoff, who bought into the original Dispatch with a cocktail-napkin contract, saying she will pay him $100,000 per year for 10 years.
But he says he only got the first installment before Rogoff begged off on the agreement, saying she didn’t have any money and that he was to blame for talking her into the buying the newspaper.
People privy to the discussions about that purchase say Hopfinger and others surrounding Rogoff told her not to close a deal to spend $34 million for a newspaper which had shrunk from a circulation approaching 100,000 to less than 30,000 but she went ahead anyway.
She later sued McClatchy arguing the company had taken advantage of her, but then dropped the suit.
As Bush pilot, moose-hunter, litigant and newspaper owner, Rogoff appears to have been trying to make her mark in the 49th state as a daring Alaska adventurer. The latest incident might only add to the image given that there is an old saying in the 49th state that “any landing you can walk away from is not a crash.”
This is a developing story. Check back for more details.
(Disclosure: The author of this story has worked for both the Anchorage Daily News and AlaskaDisaptch.com and was once a personal friend of Rogoff. But they have not talked since shortly after he discovered a state official appeared to be illegally obtaining Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends. Rogoff’s newspaper refused to pursue that story. The reasons why have never been made clear, but State Board of Fisheries member Roland Maw was a friend of the governor, a regular visitor to Rogoff’s home. Maw was eventually charged with multiple felonies and is scheduled for trial in the fall.)