Era Helicopters identifies pilot injured in Norris Glacier crash

ntsb-logo-tagDownload Audio

Era Helicopters has identified its pilot who was critically injured in Thursday’s crash at Norris Glacier near Juneau as Jiri Hanis.

Hanis, 39, was medevaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Thursday with critical injuries. A hospital spokeswoman Friday afternoon said he’s in serious condition in intensive care.

Era spokesman Tim O’Leary said Era’s operations in Juneau have been suspended temporarily. He said the start date of the seasonal heli-mush tour on Norris Glacier has also been pushed back from May 12 to May 16.

The pilot was headed up to the glacier at the time of the accident to supply the dog camp, O’Leary said. The helicopter itself is in “pretty rough shape.”

“So, it will be part of the investigation to see if it can – what – can be salvaged,” he said.

Mike Hodges is the investigator in charge on this crash for the National Transportation Safety Board.

“This’ll be a full investigation done by the NTSB,” Hodges said. “And as of right now, we’re waiting on weather conditions to cooperate for recovery operations. So we’re just kind of on standby right now.”

A preliminary report is expected to be published in five to 10 days.

It’s not unusual for weather to limit access to the site. Independent videographer Paul Hemann got stuck on the glacier for three days once because of weather.

“You’d hear the helicopters on the other side just trying to get over and they can’t get over. And they, you know, you’ve got your bags ready to jump on and get out of there, and sat there for three days cause the weather changes, the ceiling changes around those mountains so fast that once they come in, sometimes you don’t got a window to get out.”

Hemann has spent several weeks on Norris Glacier in recent years following the dog sled operation. He said the sled dog camp is sited in a pretty flat basin, but there are some risks. Besides weather, the ice itself can be hazardous. He said workers use long poles to regularly check for hidden ice bridges and crevasses.

“There’ll be … nothing one day, and then the next day, there’ll be a ton of stuff there,” Hemann said. “You know, there might be a big ol’ crack that opened up that’s bottomless.”

Alaska Heli-Mush partners with Era Helicopters for its dog sledding tours on the Norris Glacier. On their website, they describe Era is the “oldest and safest helicopter company in Alaska.”