Czech billionaire Petr Kellner killed in helicopter crash on Alaska ski trip
U.S. safety inspectors on Monday looked for clues to the causes of the Alaskan mountainside helicopter crash that killed billionaire Petr Kellner, the richest man in the Czech Republic and founder of the group. PPF investment, during a weekend ski trip.
Mr Kellner, 56, was among five people, including the pilot, who perished on March 27 when the helicopter struck a snow-capped slope in the Chugach Mountains near the Knik Glacier, about 64 kilometers northeast of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, according to officials mentioned.
One person survived the crash, David Horvath, 48, a resident of the Czech Republic. He remained in serious but stable condition in a hospital in the Anchorage area, according to Alaska State Police. Another Czech national, Benjamin Larochaix, 50, was among the dead.
Mr Kellner, who avoided public attention but was pictured in an annual PPF on a snowboard, was part of a group that had taken a day trip by heliskiing before the crash, state police said.
A spokeswoman for the exclusive Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, where the crash victims stayed, said Mr Kellner has been a frequent guest since 2012.
Authorities launched a search for the helicopter on the night of March 27 after the plane was reported late for its return, and located the wreckage shortly thereafter. The bodies of the victims were found on Sunday.
A team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) discovered that the helicopter, an Airbus AS350B3, had crashed about 4.5 meters below a ridge line and slid 274 meters along the slope before coming to a stop, agency spokesman Eric Weiss said.
Photos of the crash site, at an altitude of about 1,676 meters, showed the aircraft largely intact. NTSB member Tom Chapman said at a briefing in Washington on Monday that investigators had yet to interview the survivor.
“The area is very rugged, both in terms of terrain and weather,” said Chapman.
As with all NTSB investigations, agency inspectors will look at a wide variety of factors that may have contributed to the crash, including airworthiness, human performance, weather and operations, Weiss said.
Mr. Kellner was a dominant figure in the post-Communist era of the Czech Republic, amassing wealth estimated at $ 17.5 billion according to Forbes. He ranked as the 68th richest person in the world on the Forbes 2020 list, tied with media giant Rupert Murdoch and his family.
In a statement, PPF expressed its “deepest sorrow” over the death of its founder and 98.9% shareholder.
Ladislav Bartonicek, a 30-year PPF veteran who owns just over 0.5% of the capital, will assume the management role, the company said.
PPF’s third-largest shareholder, Jean-Pascal Duvieusart, also with just over 0.5 percent, said the company will continue to build and follow Mr. Kellner’s vision.
“Petr was someone who was really extraordinary in terms of energy, in terms of creativity, in terms of willingness to build new things,” Mr. Duvieusart said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Kellner leaves behind his wife Renata and four children.
He started selling photocopiers when the country opened up following the Velvet Revolution of 1989. He set up the PPF with partners for the country’s privatization program.
With holdings in finance, telecommunications, manufacturing, media and biotechnology, PPF reported assets of 44 billion euros ($ 51.8 billion) as of mid-2020.
PPF controls telecommunications companies in Central and Eastern Europe, including O2 Czech Republic, Telenor CEE and CETIN.
His largest company is the Home Credit consumer lender, active in markets such as Russia, China and India.
Home Credit was one of the early entrants to the Chinese market, starting to lend there as the first fully foreign-owned business in 2010.
His business there was defended by Czech rulers, whom critics saw as a hijacking of the country’s human rights diplomacy course established by the first post-Communist ruler, Vaclav Havel.
President Milos Zeman sought warm relations with China and took Kellner to a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014.
Mr. Kellner also funded a think tank set up by former President Vaclav Klaus, the architect of the 1990s privatization that enabled Mr. Kellner’s business to flourish.
“His life story was an example of the exploited opportunity offered to young people by economic transformation,” said Mr. Klaus.
Mr Kellner had recently focused on his home market, with PPF acquiring a stake in MONETA Money Bank and proposing to merge it with its Air Bank and parts of Home Credit. MONETA shares fell 1.7% on Monday.
Last year, PPF finalized the acquisition of Central European Media Enterprises, a group of television stations, from Time Warner.