A helicopter carrying a group on a “heli-ski” trip in the Alaskan mountains crashed, killing at least five people, including the Czech Republic’s richest person.
Only one person survived the Saturday crash about 50 miles east of Anchorage. Alaska State Troopers said they were in stable but serious condition.
The five people killed were identified as Petr Kellner, 56, and Benjamin Larochaix, 50, of the Czech Republic; Gregory Harms, 52, of Colorado; Sean McMannany, 38, of Girdwood; and pilot, Zachary Russel, 33, of Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers said.
Kellner had a net worth more than $17 billion, making him the Czech Republic’s richest man and the world’s 68th richest billionaire, according to Forbes, which tracks the world’s richest people.
“His professional life was known for his incredible work ethic and creativity, but his private life belonged to his family,” the PPF Group, an international investment company in which Kellner was a majority stakeholder, said in a statement confirming Kellner’s death.
Mary Ann Pruitt, a spokesperson for the tour company, the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, told the Associated Press that Kellner and Larochaix “were loyal and frequent” guests.
According to Forbes, Kellner was married with four children. He got his start in business selling office supplies before starting an investment fund, Forbes reported.
Harms and McMannany were both guides working for the company, Pruitt said. “Greg was one of the most experienced guides in the business,” Pruit added, saying he worked for many years at the lodge and also founded a heli-ski that led trips around the world. McMannany, a 10-year veteran guide who had been working at the lodge for the past five years, was an experienced mountain guide on Denali, too, Pruit said.
Russel was a pilot for the contracted helicopter company Soloy Helicopters, Pruitt said.
“This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased,” the lodge said in a statement.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said the Eurocopter AS50 helicopter crashed near the Knik Glacier around 6:35pm Saturday. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.
Clint Johnson, with the National Transportation Safety Board, told the Anchorage Daily News that the site was “in an area of very steep terrain, snow-covered terrain, right around 5,000 to 6,000 feet.”
Johnson said crews were working to recover the wreckage before snow arrives.
According to the lodge’s website, the cost of a heli-skiiing trip starts around $15,000 per person for a week-long trip.
The company says heli-skiing is off-trail, downhill skiing accessed via a helicopter. “It’s about skiing in natural environments without the effort that comes with hiking to these areas,” the company says on its website. “Imagine endless terrain, inspiring steeps, and colossal vertical feet.”
The helicopter company operates a fleet of 19 helicopters, it says on its website. The company did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
Contributing: The Associated Press