On March 27, 2021, a Eurocopter AS 350 B3 helicopter crashed near Knik Glacier, roughly 50 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska. Passengers aboard the downed chopper included Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, snowboard instructor Benjamin Larochaix, snowboarder David Horváth, and heli-skiing guides Gregory Harms and Sean McManamy.
Kellner, Larochaix, Harms, and McManamy died in the Alaska helicopter crash, along with pilot Zachary Russell. Horváth was the crash’s lone survivor.
Petr Kellner and his traveling companions were on a heli-skiing trip in Alaska’s backcountry when the fatal crash occurred. The men were guests at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, a multi-sport lodge in Judd Lake, Alaska. Kellner was a frequent guest at the secluded luxury lodge, which offers “unparalleled alpine adventure” starting at $15,000 per person.
According to media outlets, the Eurocopter AS 350 B3 helicopter departed from Wasilla Airport at approximately 2:30 p.m. on March 27. The chopper, owned and operated by Soloy Helicopters, picked up the heli-skiing group of five from a location on Wasilla Lake at approximately 3:45 p.m. local time, then headed for the mountains. It is unclear why the group was not picked up from Tordrillo Mountain Lodge.
The last signal from the helicopter’s tracking system came at 6:45 p.m. According to Anchorage Daily News, Soloy Helicopters did not report the helicopter missing until 8:30 p.m. local time.
Alaska State Troopers received the call of an overdue helicopter along with a possible crash site. A search and rescue team from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center reached the crash site at approximately 12:30 a.m., nearly six hours after the helicopter signal was lost. The helicopter reportedly crashed between 10 and 15 feet below the top of an unnamed 6,000-foot peak.
The team pronounced the five fatalities dead at the scene. Emergency responders found David Horváth alive in the wreckage and airlifted him to an Anchorage hospital in serious condition. The hospital later upgraded his condition to stable.
No cause of the crash has yet been identified. Early reports show that the weather in the area at the time of the crash was relatively clear.
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Alaska Helicopter Crash Victims
The deceased victims include:
56-year-old Petr Kellner – Czech Republic
50-year-old Benjamin Larochaix – Czech Republic
52-year-old Gregory Harms – Colorado
38-year-old Sean McManamy – Alaska
33-year-old Zachary Russell – Alaska
Petr Kellner was the only individual on the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index from the Czech Republic. He owned a 98.93% stake in PPF Group, a Netherlands-based investment firm with roughly $52 billion in assets. Czech President Miloš Zeman expressed his condolences after news of the Alaska helicopter crash. President Zemen held Kellner with “high regard.”
Benjamin Larochaix, a friend of Kellner’s, was a snowboard coach and instructor. Larochaix trained his daughter to compete in the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
Gregory Harms worked for 15 years as a heli-ski guide at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. Known as one of the most experienced guides in the business, Harms started his own heli-skiing company that led trips throughout the world.
Sean McManamy was also a noted heli-ski guide who worked at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge for about five years. McManamy was an avalanche instructor and an experienced mountain guide on Denali, the highest peak in North America.
Zachary Russell worked as a pilot for Soloy Helicopters operating out of Wasilla, Alaska.
David Horváth, a 48-year-old former Olympic snowboarder, was the only person to survive the crash. Investigators hope to learn more about the cause of the crash once they have an opportunity to interview Mr. Horváth.
What Caused the Petr Kellner Helicopter Crash?
In the early stages of the investigation, it is not immediately clear what caused the helicopter crash that killed Petr Kellner and the other victims. Helicopter crash investigations typically take a year or more to complete. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will lead the investigation, which will focus on the actions of the pilot leading up to the crash, the flight trajectory and wreckage scatter, whether any mechanical failure occurred, the maintenance history of the Eurocopter AS 350 B3, and the prevailing weather conditions at the time of the fatal crash, among a host of other issues. No information has been released as to whether this particular helicopter was equipped with a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder (so called “black boxes”).
Soloy Helicopters contracts with Tordrillo Mountain Lodge to provide helicopter transportation. The company performs precision long-line work, flies heli-skiing trips, and contracts with state and federal agencies on wildland firefighting operations. Soloy owns and operates a fleet of 17 helicopters, including the downed Eurocopter AS 350 B3. Any investigation should look into the safety guidelines, protocols and procedures Soloy and the lodge had in place prior to the flight.
AS350 Helicopter Crash History
The AS350 series helicopter has a long history of crashes. Just weeks before the fatal crash in Alaska, an AS350 carrying French billionaire Olivier Dassault crashed shortly after takeoff. Dassault and the pilot, the only two people on board, were killed. In 2019, an AS350 crashed in Nepal just after takeoff, killing all seven people on board, including noted Nepali politician Rabindra Prasad Adhikari. In 2018, an AS350 helicopter crashed into the East River in New York City, killing five people on board. It will be important to determine whether there is a common link between these crashes.