Men who died in Alaska helicopter crash near Knik Glacier loved the outdoors, had outsized impact on people

A love of mountains, longtime friendships brought the men together for a final adventure.
Photo from the crash site near Knik Glacier.
Photo from the crash site near Knik Glacier.(Alaska Mountain Rescue Group)
Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 8:50 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Five men, two from Czechoslovakia and three from the U.S., died Saturday when the helicopter they were in struck a mountain ridge in Alaska, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a briefing Monday.

A sixth man, David Horvath, 48, of the Czech Republic, survived. On Monday he was listed in serious condition at a hospital in Anchorage.

The men — a pilot, two guides and their international clients — loved the outdoors, and in keeping with the big adventures they sought, had an outsized impact on people.

The Alaskans

Pilot Zachary Russel, 33, lived in Anchorage. According to his Facebook page he started his job with Soloy Helicopters in February 2019, commenting in a post that “it’s definitely the job I’ve wanted since I started flying.”

Sean McManamy, 38, a longtime climbing and ski guide, lived in Girdwood. Working as a guide for Colorado-based Mountain Trip, he helped people climb Denali, North America’s tallest peak. In his staff bio on Mountain Trip’s website, McManamy said he also worked for Chugach Powder Guides and the Alaska Avalanche School.

“He was hysterical. He had a really keen, kind of dry sense of humor,” said Todd Rutledge, co-owner of Mountain Trip. “He was a big, tall, strapping guy and he was a mentor to a lot of our kind of up-and-coming guides. So he had sort of had that mentorship role for, I mean, almost a generation of guides with our company.”

McManamy helped guide 15 expeditions to the summit of Denali 15, Rutledge said, adding that McManamy was a key organizer for dozens of trips each climbing season.

“Sean just had that ability to stay calm, see what needed to get done, help, support. He would help support people to get the work done that was needed so that they could get out of the situation. He was he was a pillar in our Mountain Trip family and it’s just devastating that he’s so suddenly gone,” Rutledge said.

The Coloradan with ties to Alaska

Aspen resident and ski pro Gregory Harms, 52, was a pioneer in Alaska’s heli-ski industry. Commercial fishing brought him to Alaska in the 1990s, and in time he became an early part owner of the luxury Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, an elite destination for the world’s most accomplished extreme powder buffs and well-financed adventure seekers. He also worked as a guide.

In a previous interview with Aspen 82, Harms said “what Alaska has [that] a lot of people don’t know is a lot of actually mellow, 35 degree glacier runs.”

In the interview, he described how the lodge is able to cater both to elite athletes and to those with less experience.

“We start out with short steeps and then we work up to bigger steeps. So like maybe 500 vertical. And then maybe 1,500 vertical and [then] 3,000 vertical to keep it safe for the guests,” Harms told Aspen 82.

The Czechs

Benjamin Larochaix, 50, is described by French newspaper Le Dauphine Libere as being a “big air trainer” and father of two championship snowboarders.

Petr Kellner, 56, was a husband, father, business mogul and philanthropist. Reportedly the wealthiest man in the Czech Republic, Kellner was among Forbes’ list of top 100 billionaires in the world.

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