Washington: Five people, including the Czech Republic's richest man, were killed on a heli-skiing excursion Saturday when their chopper crashed near a glacier in Alaska, officials said.
Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, whose net worth has been estimated at $17.5 billion by Forbes, was aboard the Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter when it went down near Knik Glacier, the lodge that chartered the aircraft said Sunday.
Kellner, 56, was killed, along with another guest of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Benjamin Larochaix, also of the Czech Republic; two of the lodge's guides, Gregory Harms and Sean McMannany; and the helicopter's pilot, Zach Russel, officials said.
One survivor was listed in serious but stable condition, according to the Alaska State Troopers, which said that the National Transportation Safety Board would conduct an investigation to determine what caused the crash. Emergency responders said they were notified at 10 p.m. Saturday that the helicopter had not returned from an excursion and that debris from a crash had been observed near Knik Glacier.
The accident was the latest misadventure for an extreme sport with little margin for error that has become a magnet for thrill seekers. Flights to remote mountains, playgrounds of untouched powder, are known for their steep price tags and risk.
The lodge, which offers weekly packages of $15,000 per person for shared accommodations and heli-skiing charters, expressed its sorrow about the crash in a statement Sunday night.
"This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased," the lodge said. "In 17 years of operations this is the first time we've had to face an event of this measure."
A representative for the lodge, which is in Judd Lake, Alaska, said she did not know what caused the crash. Officials said the helicopter was operated by Soloy Helicopters in Wasilla, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The lodge confirmed that it had chartered the flight.
According to the lodge, Kellner was a frequent guest and friend of the resort.
Kellner made his first fortune in the 1990s after starting an investment fund, which he used to buy a controlling stake in the country's largest insurance company.
In October, he acquired a major European broadcast network, Central European Media Enterprises, for $1.1 billion, raising concerns in the Czech Republic that the network might lose independence. But in a statement released at the time, Kellner said the acquisition was driven by "a sense of responsibility" and vowed that the network would retain its objectivity.
His investment company, PPF Group, has also donated millions of respirators and masks and thousands of coronavirus testing kits and swabs to help the Czech Republic in the pandemic, the Czech news media reported.
He was married with four children, according to his company's website.
According to the lodge, Harms, 52, was a pioneering guide in the Alaskan heli-skiing community and operated his own excursion business, Third Edge Heli. McMannany, 38, had been a guide for more than 10 years and was an avalanche instructor, the lodge said.
Details about Larochaix, 50, and Russel, 33, the pilot, were not immediately available.