Billionaire dies in helicopter crash that took five lives near Knik Glacier

Channel 2 Morning Edition (6 a.m.)
Published: Mar. 28, 2021 at 11:21 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Rescuers found one survivor after a helicopter went down in the area near Knik Glacier Saturday evening. Five others in the helicopter were found dead, according to the Alaska State Troopers.

AST identified the victims who died as 52-year-old Colorado resident Gregory Harms, 56-year-old Petr Kellner and 50-year-old Benjamin Larochaix both from the Czech Republic, 38-year-old Sean McManamy from Girdwood and 33-year-old pilot Zachary Russell from Anchorage.

The sole survivor has been identified as 48-year-old Czech Republic resident David Horvath and remains in an Anchorage hospital. According to Mary Ann Pruitt, spokesperson for the Tordrillo Moutain Lodge, Kellner was a prominent businessman and billionaire.

A Forbes profile said Kellner was Czech Republic’s richest man, with a net worth of $17.5 billion. Pruitt said Kellner had been a frequent guest and close friend to the lodge since 2012.

The company of which Kellner is a majority shareholder of, PPF, announced Kellner’s passing in a written statement Sunday night.

“With great sadness, PPF announces that on March 27, 2021, majority shareholder of PPF Mr. Petr Kellner tragically passed away in a helicopter accident in the Alaskan mountains,” the statement said. “His professional life was known for his incredible work ethic and creativity, but his private life belonged to his family. His funeral will be held with only close family members.”

Czech Republic's richest man does in helicopter crash near Knik Glacier
Czech Republic's richest man does in helicopter crash near Knik Glacier(PPF Bank)

In a written statement Pruitt said, “It is with the deepest sorrow we report that only one member of the group of 6 survived the accident. This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased. In 17 years of operations this is the first time we’ve had to face an event of this measure.”

“Our deepest condolences go out to the families and friends of those who died in this tragic event,” it continued.

Harms and McManamy were guides on the helicopter, according to Pruitt. She said Harms was a longtime tour guide at the lodge and a heli-ski guide pioneer, leading trips all over the world.

Pruitt said the lodge did not own and operate the helicopters, but instead, they are contracted through a company. NTSB said the crash was of an Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter, according to their Twitter update, owned by Soloy Helicopters of Wasilla, Alaska.

Troopers were notified of the overdue helicopter and crash debris at around 10 p.m. on Saturday, according to an online dispatch. The National Transportation Safety Board, along with AST and others are investigating.

Clint Johnson, chief regional investigator for the NTSB, said he flew over the scene Sunday.

“We now go into the recovery phase,” Johnson said. “Trying to recover the wreckage. However, weather is probably not going to play nice with us here, unfortunately. We were a little rushed to get this done before the snow comes in and then we will have to reassess it later in the week.”

Johnson said he wasn’t able to actually get to the scene, but added a senior air safety investigator will assemble a team to investigate in the next 24 hours.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the names of Zachary Russell and Sean McManamy. In the previous version, Alaska State Troopers incorrectly spelled the names.

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