Czech leaders react to billionaire Petr Kellner's death in a helicopter accident

The richest Czech died on a ski trip in Alaska; PM Babiš, President Zeman and others recalled his philanthropy.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 29.03.2021 14:08 (updated on 29.03.2021)

Condolences have been coming in over social media for Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, who died along with four others in a helicopter accident in Alaska. Kellner had long been the richest Czech, with an estimated worth of over $17 billion according to financial magazine Forbes.

People remembered him for his philanthropy and his commitment to science. The 56 year old was the founder and majority owner of PPF Group, a conglomerate with interests not only in the Czech Republic but also in Russia, China, and over 30 more countries across the globe.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who aside from being a politician also ranked as the Czech Republic’s fourth-richest person on last year’s Forbes ranking, on Twitter said: “An unbelievable tragedy. I'm so sorry. Sincere condolences to the whole family of Petr Kellner.”

President Miloš Zeman’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček sent out two tweets regarding Kellner’s passing. The first quoted the New Testament: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2. Corinthians 5.1. RIP Petr Kellner. Sincere condolences to those closest to you.”

The second tweet was more straightforward. “The President of the Republic respected Petr Kellner for his business success and greatly regrets his tragic death.”

Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamáček, who is also leader of the Social Democrats (ČSSD), posted his comments on Facebook: “The news of Petr Kellner's death struck me greatly. A year ago, he was one of the first entrepreneurs to help the Czech Republic in a difficult situation at the beginning of a pandemic. Honor to his memory, sincere condolences to all his loved ones.”

Kellner met with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš on March 15, 2020, shortly after the Covid pandemic began, to offered to donate 120 tons of medical equipment to the Czech government. The delivery, which included over 5 million surgical masks, took place on June 4, 2020.

ODS member Pavel Novotný, who is also mayor of Prague’s Řeporyje district, remembered Kellner for his financial support for the arts, specifically the Jara Cimrman Theater, a distinctive Czech institution: “Petr Kellner has always kind of won it for me with such a small thing – with the persistent financial support of the Jára Cimrman Theater; he knew that it fit more than it might seem. And that was enough for me. Really. He was a very capable guy. Sincere condolences to the family and loved ones.”

Physician and cancer researcher Marián Hajdúch, head of the Institute of Molecular and Translational Medicine, recalled Kellner’s investments into science: “Among other things, Petr Kellner was one of the first investors in biomedicine & biotechnology in the Czech Republic. He founded the firm Sotio, stimulated the interest of a number of other investors in the results of academic research, thus contributing to the development of this promising industry. Sincere condolences to the family. R.I.P.” The pharmaceutical firm Sotio develops cancer treatments.

Parliamentary Deputy Marek Výborný, former chairman of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), commented on how fleeting life can be. Výborný resigned from his post as party leader last year after his wife died so he could devote more time to his three children. "I know for myself how fragile and fleeting life here on earth is. RIP Petr Kellner and sincere condolences and a lot of strength to those closest to everyone,” he said.

Civic Democrat (ODS) chairman and Parliamentary Deputy Petr Fiala said: “Petr Kellner was an extremely successful entrepreneur, whose work and activities have always remained connected with the Czech Republic. I express my sincere condolences to his family.”

Olga Richterová, the deputy chairman of the Pirates, originally tweeted that money wasn’t everything. She quickly deleted that and apologized. “I think about how fragile and mortal we are all. I wrote an inappropriate wording a moment ago. This was to be the core. Sincere condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones or their loved one.”

Member of European Parliament and deputy leader of the KDU-ČSL Tomáš Zdechovský remembered him as a tough negotiator and a good person: “I pray for Peter Kellner and his family and thank him for all the good he has done. He was a very tough and often non-negotiable businessman, but with a big heart.”

Alexandr Vondra, a member of the European Parliament representing the ODS, called Kellner a Czech success story: “I feel sad. I only met Petr Kellner twice; it's been a long time. But for me, he was a wonderful personification of what can be accomplished in a free country. From Česká Lípa to the top of modern and global capitalism. He lived and died a man. RIP.”

PPF has confirmed the news, first reported by the New York Times, that Kellner died in a helicopter accident in Alaska on Saturday. He had been making the trip to go heli-skiing.

 “With great sadness, PPF announces that on March 27, 2021, majority shareholder of PPF Mr. Petr Kellner tragically passed away in a helicopter accident in the Alaskan mountains. The incident, in which 5 lives were lost, is under investigation,” PPF said on its website.

“Petr Kellner was 56 years old. His professional life was known for his incredible work ethic and creativity, but his private life belonged to his family. His funeral will be held with only close family members. We please ask the media to respect the privacy of the Kellner family during this difficult time,” PPF added.

The police in Alaska said Kellner and another Czech named Benjamin Larochaix, age 50, were among among fatalities, which also included the pilot. One person was reported in a serious but stable condition in a hospital in Anchorage.

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Rescuers retrieved the bodies on Sunday afternoon. “It’s in an area of very steep terain, snow-covered terrain, right around 5,000 to 6,000 feet … on the north side of Knik river,” Clint Johnson of National Transportation Safety Board said, according to the Anchorage Daily News. The cause of the crash of the Airbus AS350B3 helicopter belonging to the firm Soloy Helicopters and is under investigation.

The operators of the lodge where Kellner had been staying said that no similar incident had occurred in the past. “This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased. In 17 years of operations, this is the first time we’ve had to face an event of this measure,” the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge said.

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