Czech Billionaire’s Copter Was Feet From Clearing Alaska Ridge

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A helicopter carrying Czech billionaire Petr Kellner missed clearing a remote Alaska ridge by just 10 to 15 feet, according to preliminary information from investigators.

The copter, which had been chartered to fly skiers to a mountain, crashed at about 6:34 p.m. local time on Saturday, said National Transportation Safety Board member Thomas Chapman during a virtual briefing.

The crash occurred near the Knik Glacier, which is about 50 miles northeast of Anchorage. The Airbus SE AS 350 B3 copter, owned by Soloy Helicopters of Wasilla, Alaska, slid 800 to 900 feet (244 to 274 meters) down the snow-covered mountain before coming to rest, Chapman said.

Czech Billionaire’s Copter Was Feet From Clearing Alaska Ridge

“The area is very rugged, both in terms of terrain and in terms of weather conditions,” he said.

NTSB investigators, working with local law enforcement and rescue workers, raced to document the crash site before the arrival of a storm expected to drop more heavy snow, he said.

The weather was “relatively clear” when the wreckage was located several hours after the accident, Chapman added, saying investigators don’t yet know what conditions the pilot may have encountered. The crash occurred about two hours before sunset.

Kellner, the reclusive Czech billionaire, built a business empire with $52 billion in assets over three decades to become the country’s richest man.

He had been a guest at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, which organizes heliskiing trips into the Alaskan back-country. After the helicopter didn’t return on the evening of March 27, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center dispatched a team to the last known location, where they discovered the debris and managed to airlift out the sole survivor, according to a statement.

In addition to Kellner, the state Department of Public Safety identified the other dead as: Benjamin Larochaix, 50, of the Czech Republic; Gregory Harms, 52, of Colorado; and Sean McManamy, 38, and the pilot, Zachary Russel, 33, both of Alaska.

The unidentified survivor was in serious but stable condition.

Soloy representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment. The company has had three prior accidents, none of them serious, according to NTSB records. The most recent was 1995 and no one was injured in the events.

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