NTSB: Full recovery of helicopter wreckage ‘uncertain’ due to winter storm, snowfall

Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 7:53 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - First responders and investigators worked quickly to rescue and recover all onboard a helicopter that crashed Saturday evening and document the wreckage from the air before a winter storm brought snowfall into the rugged, mountainous terrain in the Chugach mountains near Knik Glacier.

According to Alaska State Troopers, 48-year-old Czech Republic resident David Horvath survived the crash that took the lives of five others. He was taken by air to Providence Alaska Medical Center, where he remained in serious condition Monday, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Troopers identified the victims that 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 helicopter was an Airbus AS350 B3 owned by Soloy Helicopters of Wasilla, Alaska, according to a release by AST.

“The helicopter appears to have impacted the mountain approximately 10 to 15 feet below a ridgeline at an elevation of approximately 5,500 feet before rolling 8-900 feet down the hill,” said National Transportation Safety Board member Tom Chapman during a news conference Monday.

Chapman said the wreckage is located 21 miles southeast of Palmer and accessible only by helicopter. Investigators are uncertain whether it will be possible to fully recover and remove the wreckage for further investigation after the snowfall.

“We anticipate that the wreckage is, or soon will be, obscured by snow,” said Chapman.

NTSB investigators will examine air worthiness, operations, meteorology, structures, helicopter performance, recording devices and human performance, according to Chapman.

“Our mission is to understand not just what happened but why, and to recommend changes to prevent it from happening again,” he said.

Chapman thanked AST, the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th and 212th rescue squadrons and the Alaska Army National Guard for assisting in responding to the crash.

ARCC Director Lt. Col. Keenan Zerkel said many people helping with the rescue and recovery mission are volunteers.

“These people all woke up on a Sunday morning and went out and did a pretty tough recovery effort,” he said. “It just speaks very highly for the professionals that are in the rescue and recovery phase [...] and just how well in Alaska agencies work with each other.”

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