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What Love Looks Like: Family Members Grieve Over Tragic Aniak Plane Crash

Dave Cannon

A couple in their 60s died in a plane crash last week at Marvel Dome, an area northeast of Bethel. Law enforcement officials identified the bodies of Mark Matter, 62, and his wife Cecilia Matter, 63, of Aniak. The two were longtime residents of the small Alaskan village, and leave behind an impossible-to-fill void for friends and family. KYUK spoke recently with two of their surviving children. 

Mark and Cecilia Matter, married 41 years, were never apart for long. They couldn’t be.

“They were inseparable from the beginning,” said Donna Slaugh, one of the Matters' daughters. Donna flew back to Alaska from her home in Denver when she heard about the accident.

When they crashed, her parents were flying to their small gold mine near Marvel creek in Mark’s red and white Piper PA-11. It was a familiar route; they had flown it most of their lives and most of their children's lives.

“We moved up [to the mine] as kids the day school got out, and we came down the day before school started," said Ivan, the Matters' son, who currently runs the mine. The Matter children are close, sometimes finishing each other’s thoughts.

“We stayed out there all summer long, worked every single day," his sister breaks in, "rain or shine.”

Donna says Mark didn’t come to Alaska looking for gold, but came looking for something he didn’t have back east.

“He moved up here at age 19 from Pennsylvania. He wanted to take on the world," said Donna.

Credit Dave Cannon
Mark Matter, his fish and his plane.

Whatever he was looking for, he started to find it in Alaska.  

“He worked odds and ends jobs so he could save up enough money to buy a plane, and when he got his plane he wanted to get into mining," Donna said. 

While getting his start in the mining industry he worked as firefighter, and that’s when Donna says he found something else: the person who would be his partner for life. 

“He was a firefighter, he was a heli-tech, and they met at one of the camps," Donna said. 

Cecilia was living in Aniak at the time, and they had seen each other around. Within a year, Mark and Cecilia were married. They had children soon after, and Mark's prospecting started to pay off.

Cecilia took on the job of making the business run, and was very successful. So successful that Mark became almost dependent on her, not just for the business, but for everything.

“Dad couldn’t function without Mom. He couldn’t fix himself meals or anything," Donna said. 

“She kept everybody going," said Ivan. His sister breaks in again: “She was the lifeline of the family."

Credit Dave Cannon
Cecilia Matter and Mark Matter, showing a off after a successful fishing trip. What love looks like.

Mark and Cecilia took their children to the mine and showed them what finding gold felt like; what finding love looked like.

The family and business both grew. When they got older, Donna and their other daughter moved away; Ivan stayed around. Then one day Cecilia got sick. Very sick. Ivan says it broke his father’s heart. At the time of crash, Cecilia didn’t have long to live.

They left Aniak on Thursday, headed to the Marvel Creek mine in Mark’s Piper two-seater. It was a warm day, but they might have hit some rain on the other side of the Kilbuck mountains.

The cause of the crash is unknown, and will probably remain so. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation determined that whatever happened, it happened fast and both people were killed on impact. Both Mark and Cecilia’s children and the community of Aniak are grieving. Losing both their parents in single moment is devastating, but Ivan says that in a way this saved their mother from her sickness, and their father from having to live without her.