5 killed in helicopter crash in Alaska’s backcountry

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A contracted helicopter carrying guides and guests from a lodge on a heli-skiing trip in Alaska’s backcountry crashed, killing the pilot and four others, authorities said. The only other person onboard was in serious condition but stable at an Anchorage hospital, troopers said.

Alaska State Troopers identified the victims 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.

Kellner, a billionaire, was the Czech Republic’s richest man, according to the Reuters news service.

The five passengers included three guests and two guides from Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, said company spokesperson Mary Ann Pruitt. It was not immediately clear which victims were guests or guides.

Russel was a pilot for Soloy Helicopters, a Wasilla-based company that is contracted by the lodge to provide transportation, Pruitt said.

“This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased,” a statement released by the lodge said.

The Eurocopter AS 350 crashed under unknown circumstances about 50 miles east of Anchorage at 6:35 p.m. , the Federal Aviation Administration said Sunday. Authorities said the crash site was near Knik Glacier.

The lodge is located about 60 miles northwest of Anchorage, on Judd Lake. The company website bills itself as the longest operating heli-skiing lodge in Alaska, promising deep powder, pristine runs on some of the best mountain terrain in the world. “An unparalleled alpine adventure is only a helicopter ride away,” the website says. Packages start at $15,000 per person.

The statement from lodge said this was the first time in its 17 years in business “we’ve had to face an event of this measure.”

Soloy Helicopters has a fleet of 19 helicopters providing charter services primarily in Alaska.

Its website says it provides support to government and industry, specializing in work for seismic oil drilling exploration programs. Soloy Helicopters did not immediate respond to an email to The Associated Press seeking comment Sunday.

Alaska State Troopers said in a statement Sunday that they received a report of an overdue helicopter and the location of possible crash debris Saturday night.

A rescue team from Alaska Rescue Coordination Center was dispatched to the crash site in the area of Knik Glacier just after 10 p.m., troopers wrote. The team arrived to find five occupants dead and a sole survivor, who was taken to a hospital.

The Alaska Army National Guard and volunteers from the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group recovered the bodies from the crash site Sunday and turned them over to the state medical examiner.

A temporary flight restriction placed over the glacier has been lifted, troopers said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the case of the crash.

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