Alaska congressman Don Young dies on flight

‘His absence will leave Congress less colourful and less punctual’

Gino Spocchia
Sunday 20 March 2022 10:32 GMT
Don Young, Alaska congressman
Don Young, Alaska congressman (AP)

Alaska congressman Don Young has died aged 88, almost half a century after being elected to Congress.

Mr Young was believed to have been returning home to Alaska on Friday when he lost consciousness during a flight, his chief of staff Jack Ferguson toldAnchorage Daily News.

The aircraft was descending when the Republican, and the longest-serving member of Congress, lost consciousness.

In a statement on Friday, his office said: “It’s with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we announce Congressman Don Young, the Dean of the House and revered champion for Alaska, passed away today while traveling home to Alaska to be with the state and people that he loved. His beloved wife Anne was by his side”.

Alaska Airlines told The Independent: “At approximately 4:15pm PST, crew onboard Alaska Airlines flight 275 from Los Angles to Seattle responded to a medical emergency on descent into Seattle. The crew, assisted by medical personnel onboard, acted swiftly to provide aid to our guest until the plane landed and first responders boarded the plane. Out of respect for the privacy of our guests, we will not share further details about this incident.”

Tributes abounded for the Alaska Republican, with many highlighting that Mr Young had served as a congressman for Alaska for much of its existence.

“The first time we spoke, Don Young cheerfully informed me that I was the 17th secretary he’d dealt with at DOT,” wrote US Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, in a tweet.

“Our politics weren’t the same, but it was always a pleasure working with him. A true character, he shaped US infrastructure in many ways, and will be deeply missed.”

Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy said: “Don Young was a giant, with a heart as big as the Capitol & a spirit as strong as the Alaskan wild.

“His absence will leave Congress less colourful & less punctual. But his decades of service filled every room & touched every member. Anne & his children have my deepest sympathies.”

Mr Young had said that he was convinced to enter politics by his first wife, Lu. He was first elected mayor of Fort Yukon in 1964 and then to the state House and state Senate.

He was elected to Congress in a special election in 1973 following the death of Nick Begich, a Democrat whose plane disappeared on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau three weeks before the 1972 midterms, when he was elected.

While in office, Mr Young rallied against so-called “extreme environmentalists” and supported the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which enriched the state financially.

He arrived in Alaska from California in 1959, the same year the territory became a state, after the death of his father.

“I can’t stand heat, and I was working on a ranch and I used to dream of some place cold, and no snakes and no poison oak,” Mr Young told The Associated Press in 2016.

“I said, ‘I’m going up (to) drive dogs, catch fur and I want to mine gold.’ And I did that”.

He married his second wife, Anne Garland Walton, in 2015.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press

The Independent has approached Mr Young’s office for comment.

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