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NTSB releases more details on plane crash that killed anti-abortion leader Mark Gietzen

Mark Gietzen protests outside a Wichita abortion clinic in 2022. Gietzen died Tuesday in a plane crash.
Rose Conlon
Kansas News Service
Mark Gietzen protests outside a Wichita abortion clinic in 2022. Gietzen died in May when a plane he was flying crashed in Nebraska.

Witnesses told the National Transportation Safety Board that Gietzen's was flying low in dark, rainy conditions shortly before it crashed last May.

Witnesses say a plane piloted by anti-abortion activist Mark Gietzen was flying low in dark, rainy conditions with its landing light on shortly before it crashed last May.

That’s according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash near Chambers, Nebraska, killed Gietzen, a well-known anti-abortion leader from Wichita. No one else was on board the plane.

The NTSB said the plane crashed nose first into a pasture at 9:25 p.m. on May 14. The crash site was about 14 miles south of a municipal airport in O’Neill, Nebraska.

A rancher discovered the wreckage two days later.

Gietzen, 69, left the Newton City-County Airport in his Cessna 172. Friends said he was headed to Glen Ullin, North Dakota, to visit his mother.

Witnesses told the NTSB they heard an airplane flying low over their houses about a mile from the crash site with its landing light on. The NTSB said footage from a home video surveillance camera confirmed the account.

Witnesses said there were low clouds and mist in the area when they saw the plane. The NTSB reported the ceiling at 300 feet.

The NTSB said there were no recorded communications from Gietzen during the flight

An inspection of the plane did not reveal any mechanical problems. The NTSB said fuel was found in the fuel tank lines and fuel selector valve.

Gietzen served in the U.S. Marines before coming to Wichita in the late 1970s to work for Boeing. He also became a pilot and flight instructor.

Gietzen became chair of Sedgwick County Republican Party after the “Summer of Mercy” anti-abortion protests in Wichita in 1991 and recruited anti-abortion activists into the party.

Gietzen was a familiar presence outside Wichita abortion clinics and at anti-abortion protests.

More recently, he ran for mayor of Wichita in 2019. He finished fifth in the nine-candidate primary field.

Last summer, after Kansas voters rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution to declare that it doesn't protect abortion rights, a small group of anti-abortion activists demanded a hand recount of ballots in nine counties. Gietzen used credit cards to cover most of the $120,000 cost so that recount could proceed.

The recount confirmed the results of the election, and Gietzen then filed a lawsuit seeking a statewide hand recount, but a judge dismissed it.

Before the election, Gietzen had filed suit to prevent the use of ballot drop boxes in the county. A judge dismissed the suit.

A final NTSB report on the crash is pending.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.
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