Czech billionaire among five killed in Alaskan helicopter crash
Petr Kellner, the richest man in the Czech Republic, was among five people killed in a helicopter crash in Alaska on Sunday. Photo / AP
A helicopter carrying guides and guests on a heli-skiing tour in Alaska crashed into a mountain and then tumbled hundreds of feet, killing the pilot and four of five passengers, officials said today.
Billionaire Petr Kellner, the richest man in the Czech Republic, was among the dead in Saturday night’s crash (Sunday NZT).
The survivor, who has not been identified, was rushed to an Anchorage hospital on Sunday and listed in serious but stable condition.
The chartered helicopter, an Airbus AS350 B3, “was conducting heli-skiing operations in an area of steep, remote terrain in the Chugach Mountains near the Knik Glacier,” National Transportation Safety Board member Tom Chapman said today.
The crash site, approximately 34 kilometers southeast of Palmer, is only accessible by helicopter due to the rough terrain and snowy conditions. Palmer is located approximately 72 km north of Anchorage.
The recovery of the bodies was accelerated on Sunday as another snowstorm is expected. The bodies were turned over to the Alaska State Medical Examiner.
Clint Johnson, NTSB chief in the Alaska Division, was also able to document the crash site with aerial photos “before the snowfall obscured the site,” Chapman said.
Recovering the wreckage is now investigators’ main focus, but this time is uncertain given the terrain and additional snow forecast.
The five people killed were identified as Kellner, 56, and Benjamin Larochaix, 50, both from the Czech Republic; Gregory Harms, 52, of Colorado; and two Alaskan residents, Sean McManamy, 38, of Girdwood, and the pilot, Zachary Russell, 33, from Anchorage.
The five passengers included three guests and two guides from Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, company spokeswoman Mary Ann Pruitt said.
Kellner was a businessman with a net worth of over US $ 17 billion (NZ $ 24 billion), according to the Forbes 2020 list of the richest people in the world.
Kellner held a 98.93 percent stake in the PPF Group, an international investment firm. The group operates in 25 countries in Europe, Asia and North America with assets of US $ 52 billion. The PPF group has confirmed Kellner’s death.
“Her professional life was known for her incredible work ethic and creativity, but her private life belonged to her family,” said a post on the PPF group’s website.
Kellner and Larochaix “were loyal and frequent guests” at the lodge, Pruitt said in an email to The Associated Press. Lodge vacation packages start at US $ 15,000 per person.
Chapman, the NTSB member, said based on Johnson’s observations that the helicopter appears to have struck the mountain about four meters below a ridge line. The helicopter then descended approximately 250 m.
Using satellite signals broadcast from the helicopter, the NTSB said the plane was last heard on Saturday at 6:34 p.m. and reported late at around 8:30 p.m. Another operator participating in the search found and identified the wreckage about an hour later, Chapman said.
Chapman said the team investigating the crash will examine airworthiness, operations, meteorology, structures, helicopter performance, recording devices and human performance.
The NTSB also hopes to interview the survivor. It is not yet known if there was any type of pilot communication prior to the crash.