Deadly playground


The scene of the deadly crash/NTSB


Alaska inattentiveness blamed in billionaire’s death

The once richest man in the Czech Republic did not die because of a helicopter crash in the Chugach Mountains just north of Alaska’s largest city in late March of 2021 as Alaska State Troopers reported at the time, according to a lawsuit filed in Anchorage Superior Court this week.

The suit contends Petr Kellner – the 56-year-old, billionaire founder of a global investment group – died because those involved in planning his heli-skiing adventure failed to organize a search and rescue in a timely fashion.

Kellner survived the crash, according to the filings, but died sometime during the approximately six hours it took rescuers to reach the scene about 20 miles southeast of Wasilla, the home base for Soloy Helicopters. 

The suit contends Soloy, which owned the helicopter in which Kellner was a passenger; Tordrillo Mountain Lodge owner Triumvirate LCC, which had organized the heli-skiing adventure for Kellner; and Third-Edge Alaska, a heli-skiing guide business set up by the late Greg Harms, failed to responsibly monitor the helicopter and organize a search after it went down.

“Mr. Kellner suffered serious injuries but survived the initial impact and was alive and conscious after the accident,” the suit says.

The suit argues thar he would have lived if those injuries had been treated in a reasonable amount of time, though that is likely to be a subject of debate if a jury is ever seated to pass judgment.

Different doctors might well express different views.

Three survivors

Though troopers two years ago reported that only one person aboard the aircraft survived the crash, it has since been learned three were still alive after the helicopter hit a ridgeline near 6,000 feet above the Knik Glacier.

They were Kellner, the 52-year-old Harms, a Colorado ski guide with long experience in Alaska; and David Horváth, a 48-year-old former Olympic snowboarder and friend of Kellner from the Czech Republic.

Harms and Kellner would not live to see the arrival of lifesaving pararescuemen from the Alaska Air National Guard.

Horváth, however, held on despite dislocating both of his knees, breaking ribs and losing all of the fingers on his left hand and parts of those on his right due to frostbite while trapped in the wreckage of the helicopter until late into the night.

Based on his Facebook posts, he has since recovered well. He is now back home with his young family in Turnov in the mountains of the northern Czech Republic.

It was Horváth who revealed Kellner and Harms survived the crash and that knowledge became public last year after Harms’ partner, Chantel Ramsey, filed a wrongful death suit against Soloy in the U.S. District Court for Alaska.  

A legendary extreme skier and the founder of Third Edge, Harms left behind not only Ramsey but an infant daughter.

The Ramsey case was eventually settled. The terms of that settlement have not been made public. But the filings did reveal what appeaered to be flaws in the way in which the heli-ski operation was being run.

Attorneys in the Harms case claimed that Harms “ultimately died due to lack of flight tracking and required communications with the subject helicopter, as well as several hours delay in communicating emergency search and rescue alerts, communications and plans.”

Attorneys for Kellner’s wife, Renáta Kellnerová, and Kellner’s Alaska representative, Wayne Eski, now appear to believe Soloy shouldn’t be the only Alaska business to pay for these alleged failings despite something of a friendship that had developed between Kellner, an adventurous European businessman, and the companies over the years.

Kellner had a long relationship with the pricey Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, a highly respected leader in Alaska wilderness ski adventures. 

Alaska’s Tommy Moe, an Olympic gold medalist in the downhill, and Wyoming buddy Mike Overcast, who founded Chugach Powder Guides and helped pioneer 49th state heli-skiing, are among the lodge’s owners.

A luxury, $18,000-per-week operation, Tordrillo has at one point or another been featured most favorably in just about every high-end travel publication in the world.

Soloy Helicopters, meanwhile, is a well-established Alaska company dating back to 1979 when Chris Soloy, who moved to Ketchikan with his family in 1958 and learned to fly at age 16,  trekked north to Wasilla with his now late wife, Jan, to set up a family business.

Over time they grew their company to include 19 helicopters, two support airplanes and 28 full-time employees, Alaska Business magazine reported in 2019. The company had a sterling reputation before it became involved in what Ski Magazine described simply as “the deadliest heli-skiing aviation accident in North American history.”

The lawsuit filed in the name of Kellner’s wife and family argues that at least one of the deaths was due less to an accident than to systemic failings by everyone involved with the adventure both before and after the crash.

The suit contends the cause of the crash was 33-year-old Soloy pilot Zachary Russel, who died, “operating the helicopter in a careless, negligent and reckless manner,” but the focus of the litigation is primarily on what happened – or didn’t – after the six-seat, single-engine Eurocopter AS 350, or A-Star as it is more commonly called, slammed into the mountain.

After the crash, a strapped-in Horváth was left buried thigh-deep in snow in 14-degree weather for six hours before the Alaska Guard helicopter operating in the midnight dark could put a team of pararescue specialists on the ground.

Only about two hours, however, passed between the time the Guard was assigned the rescue mission and the paras were on the ground beside the smashed aircraft.

This is a fairly standard timeline for such rescues in the Chugach, Kenai, Talkeetna and Aleutian chain mountains surrounding Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) where the fabled 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons are based. 

The lawsuit argues that if the Guard had launched shortly after the crash instead of four hours after, Kellner would be alive.

“Due to (trip) operators’ failures to monitor the location and status of the helicopter; failure to properly install, operate and maintain the emergency location transmitter (in the helicopter), failure to initiate a prompt emergency response, and failure to notify authorities,” the suit says, “rescue personnel did not reach the accident scene until several hours after they otherwise would have.

“By the time they located Mr. Kellner’s body, he had succumbed to what were survivable injuries.”

The delays

The helicopter crashed shortly after 6:30 p.m. on March 27, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, with no one monitoring the flight. 

For reasons yet to be officially determined ,the emergency location transmitter (ELT) did not activate. That is among issues still under investigation by the National Transportion Safety Board (NTSB).

The lawsuit contends Soloy failed “to ensure that the device was properly installed, operated and maintained.” But that has yet to be proven. There could be other reasons it didn’t activate.

ELTs are, however, a last means of communication, and the suit also argues hat someone should have been maintaining regular contact with the pilot and guide with “pre-flight plans and procedures, including but not limited to the use of pre-planned check-in times, routes, ski runs and landing zones.

“Taking these precautions should have promptly alerted the operators of the need for an emergency response and location of their passengers.”

Considerable numbers of aircraft in Alaska, both private and commercial, are now also tracked in real-time by satellites, which could have helped alert someone to the crash.

Without any of these safety procedures in place, there was no hint the aircraft had crashed until an hour and a half later when it failed to show up as scheduled at 8 p.m. back at its home base in Wasilla.

After that, Soloy began organizing its own search. It did not notify the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at JBER that it had a missing aircraft until 9:10 pm.

“Nearly three hours after the accident,” according to the suit, “a helicopter (believed to have been owned by Third Edge) located the wreckage after finally being dispatched to investigate the helicopter’s last known location. The helicopter that located the wreckage did not render aid.”

The wreckage was in terrain where the helicopter could not land, and the wreckage eventually slid down the slope Kellner and others had hoped to ski and snowboard.

Soloy at 9:40 relayed to the RCC that wreckage had been spotted and wreckage. The RCC within minutes called up the rescue squadron, but by the time help arrived on the scene  it was too late for Harms or Kellner.














21 replies »

  1. When using a commercial enterprise one expects a certain level of expertise and a certain level of compliance with modern standards. I fly a variety of small commercial planes and helicopters on a fairly frequent basis, all of them have gps tracking and someone who monitors these flights to one extent or another. When I fly with a buddy or go in a buddies boat who doesn’t have these things I bring my own emergency satellite device and let someone know when and where I will be and report back at a specific predetermined time.

    When paying for a service such as this there is or at least used to be a typical hold harmless waiver or letter of liabilty agreement or whatever it was called wherein a person agrees that the activity they are taking part in is dangerous and whatnot. None of these protect the business from liability due to a failure to perform on their part.

    With the relatively inexpensive over the counter technology available today it’s either industry standard or should be industry standard to expect a certain basic level of monitoring in the event of catastrophe on a high end heliskiing trip.

  2. The Tordrillo Mountain Lodge may encounter more legal fees in the future. The West Susitna Access Road is a threat to their business. People will be able to drive out and then access TML ski terrain by snowmobile if this road happens. Hopefully the TML will join the fight against this AIDEA boondoggle which, as usual with AIDEA, is based on fantasy economics.

    • Given the lack of roads statewide, any new road is a Good Road, including the West Susitna Access Road. Try not to confuse NIMBYism with boondoggles. Cheers –

      • Agimarc ,

        I usually agree with your assessment. Not this time.

        Alaska does a poor job of road upkeep .
        As well as poor job of ecosystem protection.
        Theirs is a history of boondoggles.

        This west susitna road would be an extreme engineering effort. Innumerable bridges, culverts, large rivers, swamps ,crossing salmon streams galore, disturbing wildlife to the extreme.
        It would be an extreme cost when our budgets are already stretched and our dollar is weakening.
        What benefit do we really gain?
        I would say definitely boondoggle territory.
        Cost benefit analysis very poor.

        It would interfere with the remote cabin culture already present.

        Why is the road needed? The mine that’s pushing it can get most of the way there with barges in the summer, planes all year , and snow vehicles throughout the winter. Its already a super highway that costs little to maintain.
        We are not a good state for roads .
        Use a plane ,train, boat , or snow vehicle.

        Yep another really stupid idea that effects animals and people unduly.

        Full disclosure- i own no land there. So Not my backyard.
        Im looking from 10,000 feet and its a unnecessary activity when economy is tanking.
        New roads?
        How about maintaining the ones currently being used???? Plowing ,sanding, pavement repairs?

        I never saw much sense in acquiring or creating something you don’t maintain to a professional level.

        W-s road area sure would disrupt the ecosystem and bush / weekend culture currently in existence.
        Go ahead screw up one more area with an un maintained road . Block the fish streams while you are at it. Destroy the significant brown bear habitat. Push em out and get your progress!

      • DPR – Interesting analysis, that. You captured all the arguments and magic words. Identical logic can be used against any future infrastructure. Sure you want that? Cheers –

      • If the logic you speak of is a cost benefit analysis then yes it would be wise to weigh future infrastructure projects using that as part of decision.

        Or if the logic you are pointing at is regarding fiscal responsibility- then yes use that yardstick as well .

        Shouldnt you always analyze who and what is being displaced when considering public lands , public funds ? So yes that as well.

        Especially if public funds are primarily being used to benefit private goals such as a mine and share holders?

        We love mines and might need them yet any responsible citizen ought analyze who and what is being injured in the process of public support for mining that really mostly benefits a very select few that are here today gone tomorrow. While changing something that cannot be replicated nor ever replaced. ( the west susitna area ) the planet only has one west susitna.

        Would I use the same arguments if an open pit mine was started in the hillside area of anchorage? Despite the fact I despise anchorage- yes I would champion both the bear’s habitat and the people who moved there to interface with wildlife and the view .

        Our state has a history of inadequate safe guard’s inadequate fiscal responsibility and planning . Until that changes we would be wise to be leary of gambling areas intregal to our society and ecosystems.

        Definitely have better justification than

        More roads = better

        Which is pretty primitive logic especially for a wise commenter named agimarc 😉

        Good day my admired friend!

    • You forgot to add the dangers of climate change to your rant about the proposed road. How could you?

      • Reggie –
        Wasn’t a rant . Was technically a specific rebuttal to agimarcs opinion.

        Why would i add climate change to the danger?
        Would you ?
        climate change wouldn’t be effected much by w-s
        Climate change comes and goes quickly.

        Unnecessary roads change the culture and ecosystem for a very long time.
        Possibly until earth recycles itself and we get the next big bang .
        Have you flown low over the upper skwentna and its tributaries?
        Have you watched the large number of brown bears feeding in the upper skwentna area ?
        Have you seen the humans enjoying their weekend solitude with friends enjoying the bush cabin culture of the area ?

        Truly its a gem for both humans and wildlife that shouldn’t be disrupted more than necessary.

        There are other less impactful ways to utilize alaska than roads with cars.
        Until our state becomes more economically stable it’s irresponsible to add a larger maintenance burden to the budget.
        You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

      • “…….You don’t know what you have until it’s gone…….”
        Actually, I do/did. I remember the two hour drive from Anchorage to Wasilla on the windy, narrow road through a very dark forest, and if you slid off the road, it might be hours before somebody might come by, and it was a long walk to find a phone. The present Glenn Hwy is. blessing. Yeah, “build it and they will come”, but if you have any exoerience with life, especially in Mat-Su, you’d know that they’re coming, anyway, roads or not. That’s why our roads now are overcrowded. We’re decades behind. And locking up the western Mat-Su isn’t going to stop them, again, proven by how many people are out there. Yeah, I’ve fished for silvers with the bears out there. I’ve snowmobiled the Iditarod trail. I’ve riverboated up the Skwentna River. We were laughing about pics of our friends petting bears in Vandergaw’s yard before the Daily News published the outrageous story. Ever been to Childs Glacier? Did a 120 year old road destroy it?

      • Reggie ,
        Sounds like you had a great time in west susitna without roads beyond deshka . Awesome times.
        Trails add to the enjoyment of the trip .
        Im all for highway upgrades. Especially if they include trails or bike paths alongside ect .
        Im mostly for maintenance of our highways and back roads.

        Be careful what you wish for or the tax man inflict a payroll tax / sales tax ect .

        Roads are not free despite what a democrat may tell you.
        Construction and maintenance money will come out of some ones pockets.

        Who’s pockets will the maintenance come from ?

  3. Absolutely horrible occurrence – yet –

    Imo it defies personal responsibility to demand reimbursement after dying while doing something that is obviously risky of your own free will.

    I could understand the estate of a prior brain damaged person wanting reimbursement afterwards if they were drug up on a mountain without free choice.

    In this case the deceased estates are just greedy and finger pointing.
    Every one knew the risks at hand were “over the top”
    Thats why they were there .

    The only ones who really have a logical reason to sue are national guardsmen or the state for time and materials reimbursement. Imo

    Pays your money take your chances?
    Play stupid games win stupid prizes?
    Idk . The culture sure is changing.

    • Tough call for me. Be easy if this were just a bunch of skiers who got together to charter a helo.

      But when you pay a guiding company for a service, a certain degree of protection from the dangers is to be expected.

      Be interesting to see what the NTSB eventually decides here. If the crash was due to factors beyond the pilot’s control, we’ve got one scenario, and if it was pilot error we have another. If it’s the latter, it certainly strengthens the case.

      Either way, however, there is the issue of time. Little hard to believe, given today’s tech, that all air-charter/taxi ops aren’t tracking their aircraft in real time. That wouldn’t, in this case, have provided immediate notification. But if anyone had noticed that helo sitting in a strange place high on the mountain for half an hour, it would have been reasonable to try and raise the pilot on the radio.

      And when that didn’t work, do more.

  4. Unfortunately, this is a case of previous ‘non event feedback’. Flight operations may have risk management programs, but ‘fire drills’ aren’t always practiced, so when the real event occurs, untrained people tend to react slowly. In an outdoor accident, there is that ‘golden hour’ to respond, and even, in the best of circumstances , by the time an alert is acted on and by the time rescuer’s get into the field, hours can go by for a variety of reasons (personal observation). The bottom line is that flying around bush Alaska is risky business and a 911 -10 minute response is not to be expected.
    Note: Pilot’s should be drilled on this and passengers so informed.

    • I think they were Harms clients. Third Edge was getting going and had no base. So Harms was working through TML. My opinion is they were getting in late and Harms put together the excursion to the Knik for them so they could get some turns and Harms could pitch the area and offer up some first ascents. Things were just too loose, late afternoon start, Soloy’s people probably went home for the day never expecting a problem. If they booked through TML they would be their clients so they should of been tracking them. But since the group never showed up at TML lodge or flew out of their facility they were not tracking them. Bad deal for everyone involved. To bring the politics into this. The state gives away the its natural resources. This accident occured in the Mat su borough. Unlike Canada and federal land in Alaska helicopter companies can fly pretty much where the want with no oversight. To operate in the Mat Su I think all you need is a state of Alaska business license. So companies flying billionaires around with no benefit to the state or borough other than a business license. I may be off on some things been awhile since I looked at the industry.

  5. In March of 2001 I was shot in the head a few mikes away from MacLaren Lodge in a hunting accident. That was the first year the new owners of the lodge operated during the winter, and they radio-phoned for an evacuation at about 1 pm. The emergency system at the time dispatched a private medical helicopter, not the National Guard. The wind up there that day was brisk, to say the least. The helicopter had to divert to Gulkana for fuel on the way. They picked me up at 7pm. By today’s standards, the air evacuation was cheap; $11K. A friend evacuated a few years later by the Guard after a snowmobile accident near Talkeetna had a much cheaper bill; $0.00.
    No complaints from me. Not only am I alive, but I recovered fully from the gunshot, including my sight.
    I suppose death changes that perspective for the complaintants. But I’d like to salute the emergency response community for what they did for me and my family. I’m very grateful.

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