Feds: Owners must get helicopter wreckage off slope near Knik Glacier

Two people with helicopters and sleds at a snowfield
Recovery crews near the crash site (Alaska Mountain Rescue Group via Alaska State Troopers)

The wreckage of a helicopter that crashed last weekend, killing five people, will have to be hoisted off a mountain by the company that owned it, a U.S. investigator said.

The Airbus AS350 BB helicopter crashed near Knik Glacier, north of Anchorage, on Saturday, killing the pilot and four passengers, including the richest person in the Czech Republic. There was one survivor.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash in rugged terrain only accessible by helicopter just north of Anchorage. The downed helicopter is owned and operated by Soloy Helicopters of Wasilla, according to Tom Chapman, an NTSB board member.

Clint Jonson, chief of the agency’s Alaska division, said Soloy’s insurance company will be responsible for hoisting the wreckage off the mountain with the expectation it will be turned over to investigators.

Weather permitting, the hope is to have it off the mountain by the end of the week, he said.

The helicopter appears to have hit the mountain 10-15 feet below a ridgeline at an elevation of about 5,500 feet. The helicopter then rolled 800-900 feet downhill, Chapman said.

A satelite map of a mountainous area
Approximate location of crash (Google Earth image using FAA data)

Chapman said the last satellite-based signal broadcast from the helicopter was at 6:34 p.m. The helicopter, which was on a heli-ski adventure trip with two guides and three guests from Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, was reported overdue at 8:30 p.m. Someone searching for the aircraft found it an hour later.

Volunteers from the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and the Alaska National Guard recovered the bodies Sunday ahead of a predicted snowstorm.

Among items federal investigators will look into are why the craft wasn’t reported overdue for two hours, weather conditions, pilot experience and history and the airworthiness of the helicopter.

The half-day heli-skiing flight was arranged through the lodge which contracts with Soloy Helicopters for excursions. Packages start at $15,000 per person.

The helicopter was required to either file a flight plan or use electronics so officials could keep track of the aircraft.

“Soloy Helicopters extends its sincere condolences to the families of those lost in the March 27 accident in Alaska, including our treasured colleague who also died in the crash,” a previous company statement said. “Safety is our top priority and it is in that spirit that we will be working alongside the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other local officials as the investigation into this accident ensues.”

A spokesman for Soloy said the company would have no additional comment since the crash is under investigation.

Killed in the crash were frequent lodge guests Petr Kellner, 56, a billionaire from the Czech Republic, and Benjamin Larochaix, 50, also of the Czech Republic. Also killed were guides Gregory Harms, 52, of Colorado; and two Alaska residents, Sean McManamy, 38, of Girdwood, and the pilot, Zachary Russell, 33, of Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers said.

The survivor was David Horvath, 48, also from the Czech Republic. He was listed in serious condition Wednesday at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

Horvath was found alive inside the helicopter when rescuers arrived about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, said Alaska Air National Guard Lt. Col. Keenan Zerkel, director of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.