US govt. blames pilot for 2021 helicopter crash that killed Czechia's ex-richest man

Petr Kellner and other associates died following a March 2021 helicopter crash in Alaska owing to poor pilot skills and a slow rescue response. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 28.09.2023 10:59:00 (updated on 28.09.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

The helicopter crash that claimed the life of Czech billionaire Petr Kellner and four others in the U.S. state of Alaska in 2021 has been attributed to the pilot's inadequate response to poor visibility conditions, according to a report from the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB released its findings on Thursday, as reported by Reuters, shedding light on the tragic incident.

The crash occurred on March 27, 2021, and resulted in the deaths of Petr Kellner, snowboarding coach Benjamin Larochaix, pilot Zachary Russell, and mountain guides Gregory Harms and Sean McManamy. David Horváth, a former Czech representative in snowboarding, was the sole survivor of the accident, though his rescue was significantly delayed, leading to extensive frostbite and permanent damage on both of his hands.

The group was engaged in the extreme sport of heliskiing, where skiers or snowboarders are transported by helicopter to remote, open terrain for their downhill descents. The ill-fated flight was organized by Soloy Helicopter, a company specializing in such excursions.

Poor training, slow response

The NTSB report cited "inadequate pilot training" at Soloy as a contributing factor to the crash. It also pointed to insufficient oversight by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector. These lapses in training and oversight raised concerns about the safety measures in place within the helicopter charter industry.

The investigation into the accident was impeded by adverse weather conditions and challenging terrain, which limited authorities' access to crucial evidence until a year later.

According to the NTSB report, the crash occurred during the helicopter's second attempt to land on a mountain ridge. During this maneuver, the pilot encountered dense fog, which obscured visibility. The pilot apparently lost visual contact with the mountain ridge due to a phenomenon known as "white darkness," caused by air currents generated by the helicopter's rotor.

Kellner and his companions had been staying at the luxurious Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, known for hosting heli-skiing trips in the winter. The helicopter flights for their adventure were outsourced to Soloy Helicopter.

According to previous court documents, Kellner initially survived the crash but died while waiting for rescuers, who took around three hours to attend to the wreckage. No one had been monitoring the flight, documents allege.

In response to the tragedy, businesswoman and widow Renáta Kellnerová and her family sought a thorough investigation by the Alaskan court. The NTSB’s findings are expected to swing a potential verdict in her favor.

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