Sunday, March 28, 2021

Eurocopter AS 350B3 Ecureuil, N351SH: Fatal accident occurred March 27, 2021 and Accident occurred August 03, 2017

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Anchorage, Alaska
Federal Aviation Administration; Fort Worth, Texas
Safran Helicopter Engines; Grand Prairie, Texas
Airbus Helicopters USA; Grand Prairie, Texas 

Location: Palmer, AK 
Accident Number: WPR21FA143
Date & Time: March 27, 2021, 18:35 Local
Registration: N351SH
Aircraft: Airbus Helicopters AS350-B3
Injuries: 5 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air taxi & commuter - Non-scheduled

On March 27, 2021, about 1835 Alaska daylight time, an Airbus Helicopters AS350-B3, N351SH, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Palmer, Alaska. The pilot and four passengers were fatally injured, and one passenger was seriously injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Aviation Regulations Part 135 on-demand charter flight.

Representatives from the operator reported that the helicopter was contracted by a local lodge to transport passengers from a private residence on Wasilla Lake, Wasilla, Alaska, to the Chugach Mountain Range to conduct heli-ski operations.

Data obtained from a handheld global positioning system (GPS) unit showed that the helicopter departed Wasilla Airport about 1440 and arrived at the Wasilla Lake residence about 10 minutes later. About 53 minutes later, the helicopter departed the residence and flew toward the Chugach Mountains. The helicopter arrived at the intended operating area about 19 minutes later and subsequently flew multiple legs from 1612 and 1807.

The GPS data showed that the helicopter departed again at 1827:05 on a northwest heading and climbed to about 5,900 ft mean sea level (msl).

The data showed that the helicopter’s final movements began about 1833 over a ridgeline at 6,266 ft msl (about 14 ft agl), at a groundspeed of 1 kt. The helicopter maintained a low altitude and groundspeed as it maneuvered over the ridgeline for the next few minutes. The data track ceased at 1836:42 near the final resting point of the main wreckage. 

A representative from the operator stated that the helicopter was due to return to its base at 2000. Once it had not returned, they initiated their company procedures for an overdue aircraft. The wreckage was located by helicopter about 2130.

An aerial assessment of the accident site by a National Transportation Safety Board investigator the day after the accident revealed that the helicopter impacted terrain about 15 to 20 ft below the top of a ridge line. The total debris field extended about 900 ft downslope from the top of the ridge line. 

The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Airbus Helicopters
Registration: N351SH
Model/Series: AS350-B3
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Rotorcraft external load (133), On-demand air taxi (135)
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: PAAQ,230 ft msl
Observation Time: 18:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 23 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 1°C /-12°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 5 knots / , 330°
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.89 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: Wasilla, AK 
Destination: Palmer, AK 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 4 Fatal, 1 Serious 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 5 Fatal, 1 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 61.451718,-148.36552 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email 

Pilot Zachary Russell

Outside Online
By Marc Peruzzi
Apr 10, 2021

On Saturday, March 27, a helicopter carrying Petr Kellner, 56, a citizen of the Czech Republic and one of the world’s wealthiest men, crashed near the Knik Glacier in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains. The accident was widely reported; the crash killed five people and left one person hospitalized in stable but serious condition, making it the deadliest heli-skiing aviation accident in North American history. Judging by the timing of the crash, at 6:35 P.M., it was likely the final run of the day. The trip was chartered with Colorado company Third Edge Heli and based out of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. The death count included fellow Czech Benjamin Larochaix, 50; the pilot, Zachary Russell, 33, of Anchorage; Denali and heli-ski guide Sean McManamy, 38, of Girdwood, Alaska; and lead guide and Third Edge Heli owner Gregory Harms, 52, of Aspen. 

Since the news broke, rumors have flown in the ski world, but the cause of the crash remains unknown. We’ll have a much clearer picture of what happened when the flight recorders are examined and the survivor is interviewed. The investigation, run by the National Transportation Safety Board and likely backed by private accident investigators, is ongoing and, as with the case of the crash that killed former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, could take more than a year to complete.

But we do have a couple details on the accident and a wealth of background knowledge to pull from about heli-skiing to provide some context. 

Alaskan heli-skiing has a reputation for extreme risk. And if we’re talking slope angles, cliffs, crevasses, and avalanches, that reputation is well-earned—much of it takes place on high-consequence terrain where falls sometimes don’t stop until the mountains do. But while the skiing is always assumed to be dangerous, the flying isn’t typically viewed that way. It should be.  

I am not a pilot. But my brother-in-law, Richard Bovey, is just wrapping up a long career as an Army Chinook pilot. He flew those 100-foot-long, dual-propeller aircraft in the Himalayan mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over 16 years, he also ran 50-plus rescue missions as pilot-in-command on Washington’s Mount Rainier. In reporting this story, I asked Richard to help me put the technical aspects of mountain flying into a layperson’s terms. 

For a nitty-gritty explanation of how helicopters and airplanes fly, check out the lift equation. For our purposes, all you need to know is that, essentially, the higher you go in a helicopter, the worse it performs and the harder the engine works. The weight of the craft, including fuel and cargo, is also a factor in staying aloft—the more weight, the lower you must fly. And the helicopter model matters, too. Different machines handle altitude differently. A Eurocopter/Airbus AS50—the aircraft in the fatal crash—is an excellent machine for heli-skiing in Alaska, where the elevations don’t get too extreme—usually between 2,500 and 10,000 feet—but it doesn’t have the lift of a Chinook with its two powerful engines and dual rotors. In Nepal and the Alps, the Eurocopter/Airbus AS350 is a favorite workhorse. Regardless of the aircraft, fly too high into air that isn’t dense enough to support the weight of the heli, and the rotor will droop and then stall.

The best mountain pilots know all this stuff and plan accordingly. (In the military, pilots typically attend the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site school in Colorado before they’re deployed to mountain-flying duties.) Beyond the equation, such planning involves always leaving yourself an exit. You do this by approaching a ridge or a summit at an angle—ideally rising toward a point above the feature on a 45-degree path, so if something goes wrong, you can backtrack on that same path and return to what pilots call “clean air”—away from a mountain’s wind currents—to regain sufficient lift. Richard once drooped his rotor in an active rescue on Rainier and has experienced the edges of helicopter performance on many occasions. But by always leaving an exit, he was able to maneuver out of those situations. “You can’t cheat gravity or physics,” Richard says. “Often you’re planning as you fly, but the planning never stops.” 

Now add in mountain weather. I once heli-skied outside of Valdez, and the visibility looked pretty good to me—it wasn’t blue, but I could see the nearby summits. Still, we didn’t fly that day. When I asked the pilot why, he said the milky conditions were too risky. Because all the heli-skiing and flying in Alaska happens above treeline, and often there are no trees at all, your depth perception goes to hell in the flat light—pilots often experience vertigo in such situations. Any skier who’s descended a treeless bowl in fog can relate. We call it skiing in a milk bottle. In the air, Richard likens it to flying inside of a ping-pong ball. In those conditions, it’s easy to misjudge airspeed and closing distances. Richard has lost close friends—military pilots—because they simply miscalculated how far their blades were from the mountainside. For an example from heli-skiing, one need only look to 2019, when a heli-ski pilot took off in the Caribous of British Columbia—and almost immediately lost visibility, setting the machine down hard at an angle and causing it to roll over. Luckily, all 12 passengers and the pilot walked away.

Mountain winds further aggravate these situations. Experienced pilots can often read the moisture in the air and know what types of winds to expect and where. But winds can also hit with no visual warnings. A sudden downdraft coming over a peak can travel at 3,000 feet per minute and push a helicopter into a mountain. Ditto if a pilot is setting up to toe the skid of a helicopter into an Alaskan face to unload skiers and the ten-knot headwind shifts to a ten-knot tailwind. In such scenarios, you might have time to react, or the computers on today’s sophisticated aircraft might react for you, but there’s always a delay between when the pilot moves the stick and the movement of the machine itself. “Helicopters are weird animals even at sea level,” Richard says. “In the last 20 years of Afghan flying, we’ve lost far more aircraft to mountains than to the enemy.”  

And now for the nuance. Mountain flying is fundamentally unsafe. It’s physics. And with helicopters, when things go bad, they do so dramatically. But the aviation side of heli-skiing has a strong safety record, especially in North America. If that seems contradictory, it’s not. With the right amount of planning, systems, and experience, it’s possible to make the unsafe—deep dives, moonwalks, BASE jumping, heli-skiing—safer. 

The last multi-fatality heli-ski crash in the United States occurred in 1994 in Nevada. That accident, which was the result of a mechanical failure, killed four, including the president and COO of Disney. The year before that, an accident outside of Aspen, Colorado, claimed three lives, also the result of a mechanical failure. In the 1980s, a horrible crash in the Bugaboos of British Columbia trapped clients in a fiery wreckage. (Bell redesigned its B12 helicopters after that for better emergency egress.) Since those early days, there have been incidents—hard landings, helicopters slipping off ridges—but the longtime guides I interviewed for this story can’t recall another fatal crash in the United States, and in 22 years of reporting on skiing, I can’t either. In the intervening years, helicopters have grown more powerful and reliable, and the helicopter services that contract with heli-ski outfitters have become more exacting in their training and protocols. If you added up all the tens of thousands of flight hours associated with heli-skiing’s history, fatal crashes are incredibly rare. A ballpark estimate would put the hours clocked in U.S. heli-skiing at 2,000-plus a year. “If we had crashes every year, we simply would not have a heli-skiing industry,” says ski mountaineer and heli-ski guide Chris Davenport. 

Most big-mountain skiers know the risks of helicopter skiing. It’s ingrained in the culture. In the mid-1990s, a helicopter crashed outside of Portillo, Chile. Flying at 13,500 feet, the pilot misjudged the airspeed as he closed on a mountain. The ensuing crash killed the pilot instantly. A rising-star ski photographer from Telluride named T.R. Youngstrom died while waiting for first responders. The survivors were a who’s who of skiing at the time, including filmmaker Steve Winter of Matchstick Productions and Seth Morrison, arguably the greatest big-mountain skier of all time. Also on board that day: Gregory Harms.

Which gets us to the second tragedy of the past weekend. Because of Kellner’s wealth, most of the headlines followed the schadenfreude theme: “Rich man dies heli-skiing.” But the skiing and mountaineering communities suffered a loss as well. 

Standing six-foot-four with a chest like a middle linebacker, Harms was a boisterous giant sleeved in tattoos. Without question, he had a reputation for pushing skiers to their limits, which is why he had a loyal clientele. As such, he was a pioneer of modern heli-skiing, and his persona filled a room. Not content to only heli-ski in Alaska’s short season from mid-February through April, Harms became a privateer, founding what would become Third Edge Heli with Clark Fyans in 2007. The outfit piggybacked on the local knowledge of existing operations but brought their own clients. “Most heli-ski outfits operate out of a specific tenure,” Davenport says. “Harms’s tenure was the entire world.” 

It was Harms’s goal to never let a client—or anyone, for that matter—outski him. Pro athletes would send a big line for the camera. And then, off camera, Harms would detonate it. While most guides tried to lighten their packs, Harms would load his down. Physics seemed different for him. Able to shovel large volumes of snow, he had a reputation for blazing rescues. When Fyans was buried to his neck in a 2009 South American avalanche that left him with a compound fracture, he knew he’d be out in five minutes. (When it was Harms who was buried in 2014, Fyans freed him. As Harms rolled over, he said, “What’s up, fucker?” to his pal.) 

McManamy, too, was a character out of heli-ski guide central casting. As a kindergarten student, McManamy told his mom that he would never work in an office. A New Hampshire kid, he’d developed a love for skiing and mountains early on and later attended the outdoorsy Camp Belknap. After studying outdoor education in college, he worked as a mountaineering guide on Denali. A younger kid from the New Hampshire camp named Dan Starr followed McManamy’s path. They reconnected in Girdwood, a small resort town southeast of Anchorage, as heli-ski and mountain guides.

Like Harms, McManamy was a large person with a voice that matched. “One time, we were on Denali, and everyone was sleeping at Camp 2 at 11,000 feet,” Starr says. “In the middle of the night, Sean called out in his booming voice, ‘Does anyone know where Mount McKinley is?’ He had a talent to make serious situations lighthearted. If I said something sincere about him, he would give me shit. It wasn’t disrespectful. He just wanted to lift people up. He saved snakebit trips just by his presence. He would not want me to talk somberly of him now.” 

Beyond his extended family and a wide network of climbing and skiing friends, McManamy leaves behind his wife, Caitlin Hague, also an Alaskan heli-ski guide. Harms leaves behind his partner, Chantel Ramsey, and their ten-week-old daughter. 

It makes sense that Harms and McManamy found themselves in the same helicopter on that Saturday. There is a saying in heli-skiing guide circles that sounds a bit macabre given the current context: “Don’t kill the billionaire.” The quote illustrates how interconnected the welfare of heli-ski guides is with the well-being of their uber-rich clients. The entire business of hand-to-mouth heli-ski guides getting to avoid office jobs and ski in the big mountains they love hinges on the massive income inequalities they share with some of their guests. Multimillionaires and billionaires have long propped up their favorite guiding outfits. With the cash to repeatedly experience an activity that starts at $15,000 a week, the mega-rich act like angel investors to these small companies with high overheads and short revenue streams. It’s not unusual for the rich to buy into the business to keep it running. In the pursuit of not killing the billionaires, two guides—not one—will often fly with the wealthiest guests. The client pays for the second guide’s seat. 

With that dynamic explained, I feel obligated to raise one question specific to the crash. It’s a similar query that some had after the accident that killed Bryant. Did Kellner’s vast wealth, and the spoken and unspoken influence of such power, somehow affect the outcome of the day’s events? 

The sole survivor might know. I do not. Although I sincerely hope that was not the case. 

In the wake of the deaths of Harms and McManamy and the young pilot Russell, the small world of guides and skiers is reconnecting. The dream of skiing big lines won’t soon fade. There are too many counterculture kids born each year who will never work in offices but will find a path in guiding. Call it an extreme embrace of vitality. Call it a day job. But the dangerous game will play on.

Pilot Zachary Russell

The lone survivor of the March 27 helicopter crash in the Chugach Mountains that killed five people has expressed an interest in talking to federal investigators about what happened.

The National Transportation Safety Board is ramping up its investigation into the crash in steep backcountry above Knik Glacier.

The crash of the Soloy Helicopters Airbus AS350B3 about 21 miles southeast of Palmer during a heli-skiing trip killed the pilot, two respected guides with deep ties to Alaska and two Europeans including 56-year-old Petr Kellner, a billionaire entrepreneur considered one of the wealthiest men in Europe.

Rescuers found survivor David Horváth, a 48-year-old Czech snowboarder, inside the wreckage with four of the five victims. A fifth was outside the aircraft.

The NTSB’s Alaska chief, Clint Johnson, last week said he initially got no response when he reached out to request an interview with Horváth through Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

Johnson on Wednesday said that Horváth through a representative says he’s willing to be interviewed but is not currently able to do so.

“It will probably be a while,” Johnson said.

The extent of Horváth’s injuries has yet to be made clear.

Horvath spent four days in serious condition at Providence before his condition was upgraded to good. He was no longer listed as a patient at the hospital as of Saturday and remained in that status on Wednesday, Providence spokesman Mikal Canfield said. Generally, that can mean a patient has been released or that they have requested their name be removed for privacy.

A team of NTSB investigators is starting to examine the wreckage in Anchorage after it was moved there Tuesday from Mat-Su due to concerns about COVID-19 rates there, Johnson said. Additional investigators are still arriving in Alaska and will begin interviews this week.

The crash killed 33-year-old pilot Zachary Russell, of Anchorage; guides Greg Harms, 52, of Colorado, and Sean McManamy, 38, of Girdwood; Kellner and Benjamin Larochaix, 50, both of the Czech Republic, according to Alaska State Troopers. French media have identified Larochaix as being from France.

The agency isn’t likely to release the first report on the crash until next week.

A contracted helicopter carrying guides and guests from a lodge on a heli-skiing trip in Southcentral Alaska’s backcountry crashed Saturday evening, killing the pilot and four others, including the Czech Republic’s richest man.

The only other person onboard was in serious but stable condition Sunday night at an Anchorage hospital, Alaska State Troopers said.

The five killed in the crash were identified as Gregory Harms, 52, of Colorado; Petr Kellner, 56, and Benjamin Larochaix, 50, both of the Czech Republic; and two Alaskans, Sean McManamy, 38, of Girdwood, and the pilot, Zachary Russell, 33, of Anchorage, troopers said Sunday.

The five passengers included three guests and two guides from Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, said lodge spokeswoman Mary Ann Pruitt.

The only survivor of the crash was identified by a Czech media outlet as David Horvath, a 48-year-old Czech snowboarder. Alaska State Troopers did not immediately respond Monday to a request for more information about the survivor. Horvath remained in serious condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Monday, a hospital spokesman said.

Kellner was a billionaire businessman and financier with a net worth over $17 billion, according to the Forbes 2020 list of the world’s richest people.

Kellner owned a 98.93% stake in the PPF Group, an international investment company. The group operates in 25 countries in Europe, Asia and North America with assets of $52 billion. PPF Group confirmed Kellner’s death.

“His professional life was known for his incredible work ethic and creativity, but his private life belonged to his family,” a message posted on the PPF Group website said.

The funeral is planned for only close family members, and the company asked the media to respect the privacy of the family.

Kellner and Larochaix “were loyal and frequent” guests at the lodge, Pruitt said in an email to the Associated Press.

Harms was a pioneering heli-ski guide in Alaska and worked for many years at the lodge, Pruitt said. “Greg was one of the most experienced guides in the business,” she said. He also founded a heli-ski company that led trips across the world.

McManamy had been a guide for over 10 years, and was with the lodge for the last five, she said. He was also an avalanche instructor and an experienced mountain guide on Denali, North America’s tallest peak.

Russell was a pilot for Soloy Helicopters, a Wasilla-based company that is contracted by the lodge to provide transportation, Pruitt said.

“This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased,” a statement released by the lodge said.

The Eurocopter AS50 crashed at 6:35 p.m. Saturday under unknown circumstances near Knik Glacier, about 50 miles northeast of Anchorage in the Chugach Mountains and about 21 miles southeast of Palmer, said Clint Johnson, chief of the Alaska office of the National Transportation Safety Board, which will investigate the crash.

“It’s in an area of very steep terrain, snow-covered terrain, right around 5,000 to 6,000 feet ... on the north side of Knik river,” he said.

“The mode we’re in now is to recover the wreckage,” he said. He said the goal was to get the recovery done quickly, before the arrival of a forecasted snowstorm.

Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is about 60 miles northwest of Anchorage. The lodge bills itself as a luxury multisport resort, and offers guided heli-skiing packages through the winter that start at $15,000 per person.

The statement from lodge said this was the first time in its 17 years in business “we’ve had to face an event of this measure.”

Soloy Helicopters has a fleet of 19 helicopters providing charter services primarily in Alaska.

Its website says it provides support to government and industry, specializing in work for seismic oil drilling exploration programs. Soloy Helicopters did not immediately respond to an email to The Associated Press seeking comment Sunday.

Alaska State Troopers said in a statement Sunday that they received a report of an overdue helicopter and the location of possible crash debris Saturday night.

A rescue team from Alaska Rescue Coordination Center was dispatched to the crash site in the area of Knik Glacier just after 10 p.m., troopers wrote. The team arrived to find five occupants dead and a sole survivor, who was taken to a hospital.

The Alaska Army National Guard and volunteers from the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group recovered the bodies from the crash site Sunday and turned them over to the state medical examiner.

A temporary flight restriction placed over the glacier has been lifted, troopers said.

Location: Knik Glacier
Type: Rotorcraft Crash

Update 3/28 1650

The Alaska Army National Guard and volunteers from the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group have recovered the deceased from the helicopter crash site near Knik Glacier. 

Next of kin for the deceased have been notified, and they are identified as:

52-year-old Colorado resident Gregory Harms
56-year-old Czech Republic resident Petr Kellner
50-year-old Czech Republic resident Benjamin Larochaix
38-year-old Girdwood, Alaska resident Sean McMannany
33-year-old Anchorage, Alaska resident Zach Russel (pilot) 

The injured passenger remains in serious but stable condition and is receiving medical care at an Anchorage area hospital. 

The helicopter was an Airbus AS350B3 owned by Soloy Helicopters of Wasilla, Alaska. 

The group is believed to have been heli-skiing in the area. 

The NTSB will conduct an investigation into the cause of the crash. 

The deceased have been turned over to the Alaska State Medical Examiner. 

The Temporary Flight Restriction that was in place over the Knik Glacier area has been lifted.

The Alaska State Troopers would like to thank the volunteers from the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and our partners at the Alaska Army National Guard for their assistance in the recovery operations. 

Update 3/28 1211: A temporary flight restriction is currently in place from 1100 hrs 3/28 to 1100 hrs 3/29 near Knik Glacier for a recovery mission. Pilots should avoid the area. More information and detailed coordinates can be found at:

Original: On March 27, 2021, at approximately 2200 hours, Alaska State Troopers were notified of an overdue helicopter and the location of possible crash debris in the area of Knik Glacier. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center dispatched a rescue team who located the crash site. The rescuers found a sole survivor at the crash site and transported the individual for medical care; the survivor is currently in serious but stable condition. Five other occupants of the helicopter were found deceased. The Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Army National Guard, and Alaska Mountain Rescue Group will attempt recovery efforts at the crash site today. Next of kin notifications are ongoing. The NTSB will be conducting an investigation into the cause of the crash.

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Fairbanks, Alaska
Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses; Paris
Airbus Helicopters; Grand Prairie, Texas
Safran Helicopter Engines; Grand Prairie, Texas

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Delta Junction, Alaska
Accident Number: ANC17CA041
Date & Time: August 3, 2017
Registration: N351SH
Aircraft: Airbus AS350 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Collision during takeoff/land
Injuries: 2 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air taxi & commuter - Non-scheduled


The helicopter pilot reported that he was transporting a passenger to a remote drilling site where a tracked drilling unit was stationed. He reported that he landed into the wind, which necessitated descending over bordering trees into the drilling site. The helicopter touched down on the dirt, and upon lowering the collective, he reported that he heard a "bang," and the helicopter slowly started to "pick up a ground wobble." The pilot shut down the helicopter, and both occupants exited without further incident.

A postaccident inspection revealed that the blue and red main rotor blades sustained substantial damage from impacting a black 1.5-inch steel frame attached to the tracked drilling unit, which is used to mount a canvas weather shelter for the drilling crews. The pilot reported that the steel frame was not visible to him from above as he was descending into the drilling site. The pilot further reported that he had made multiple landings at the drilling site in the past 3 months and that, with the previous landings, he had
landed farther past the tracked drilling unit, and the steel frame was always behind the helicopter.

The pilot reported that there were no preimpact mechanical failures or malfunctions with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation.

The Federal Aviation Administration Helicopter Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-21A, 2012) discusses high and low reconnaissance procedures and states, in part:

The purpose of conducting a high reconnaissance is to determine direction and speed of the wind, a touchdown point, suitability of the landing area, approach and departure axes, and obstacles for both the approach and departure.

A low reconnaissance is accomplished during the approach to the landing area. When flying the approach, verify what was observed in the high reconnaissance, and check for anything new that may have been missed at a higher altitude, such as wires and their supporting structures (poles, towers, etc.), slopes, and small crevices.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's failure to maintain clearance from a steel frame attached to a tracked drilling unit. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's failure to visually identify the steel frame during the reconnaissance process.


Personnel issues Monitoring environment - Pilot
Environmental issues Ground equipment - Effect on operation

Factual Information

History of Flight
Landing Miscellaneous/other
Landing Collision during takeoff/land (Defining event)
Landing Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Commercial 
Age: 64, Male
Airplane Rating(s): None
Seat Occupied: Right
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Helicopter 
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): None 
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 2 With waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: May 12, 2017
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: May 12, 2017
Flight Time: (Estimated) 14998 hours (Total, all aircraft), 2300 hours (Total, this make and model), 14800 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 340 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 167 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 5 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Airbus
Registration: N351SH
Model/Series: AS350 B3 
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Year of Manufacture: 2008 
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 4598
Landing Gear Type: Skid
Seats: 6
Date/Type of Last Inspection: June 19, 2017 100 hour 
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 4961 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 
Engines: 1 Turbo shaft
Airframe Total Time: 3823.7 Hrs as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Safran Helicopter Engines
ELT: C126 installed, not activated 
Engine Model/Series: Arriel 2B1
Registered Owner:
Rated Power: 847 Horsepower
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Rotorcraft external load (133), On-demand air taxi (135), Agricultural aircraft (137)
Operator Does Business As: SOLOY HELICOPTERS, LLC
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC) 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: PABI,1277 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 35 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 20:53 Local 
Direction from Accident Site: 217°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 6500 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 11000 ft AGL
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 13 knots / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:  / None
Wind Direction: 180° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:  / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.12 inches Hg 
Temperature/Dew Point: 22°C / 8°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: DELTA JUNCTION, AK (76AK)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Company VFR
Destination: DELTA JUNCTION, AK (76AK)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 
Type of Airspace: Class G

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 None 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 None 
Latitude, Longitude:  64.467781,-144.914993(est)


  1. Airbus AS 350 B3 helicopter

  2. The TFR for the rescue was centered on high terrain adjacent to the glacier (see map-pinned TFR center location below).

    The aircraft, pilots and guides supporting Heli-skiing in rugged, remote areas like that have to be sharp or such crashes would happen frequently.'45.5%22N+148%C2%B022'46.7%22W/@61.462604,-148.3536176,46689m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d61.445957!4d-148.379635

    1. A 2016 video features guide Gregory Harms and shows some heli-skiing.

  3. NTSB briefing on 3PM EDT 29 March reportedly revealed that the helicopter appears to have hit the mountain about 15 feet below a mountain ridgeline. After impact, it rolled about 900 feet downhill.

  4. NTSB goes to the accident when the folks involved are rich enough.

    1. Hard to tell how rich is enough, they took a lot of heat for not going to the Barnes crash in Corfu.

  5. There's rich enough to fly on helicopters, and then there's rich enough to be able to avoid them altogether.

    1. The key is to find a pilot who is also a billionaire, so he is comfortable enough to say "no" to you since he isn't so worried about being replaced by someone even more desperate for a heli pilot job.

      Harsh, but true.

  6. Two billionaires in a month, maybe even the same helicopter. Olivier Dassault, AS350.

  7. April 2 update says Mr. Horvath's condition has been upgraded to good, is conscious and resting comfortably. Investigators have made a request to talk with him.

    Additional details at link:

  8. The rescuers reached the survivor about six hours after the helicopter’s signal dropped out, according to another ADN report:

  9. Wreckage has been recovered to Palmer:

  10. We are in a pandemic. Why are rich Europeans flying in Alaska? I have an elderly friend not far from the crash site whose wife is has COVID-19 and is in hospital on a breathing tube. He got it too and survived. I have not heard from him in quite a while and am afraid to ask about his wife. Stay home!

    1. There are a lot of international travelers flying in accordance with applicable requirements, every day. The lodge website describes their flu policies and testing requirements, coordinated with what Alaska requires.

      The website says they haven't had any flu cases, so your friends did not get sick from heli-ski guests, whose spending supports peoples livelihoods in the area.

  11. I guess folks could just stay home forever. I don't think they cancelled WWI for the Spanish Flu.

  12. Can't stay home forever .. always going to be a boogie-man out there
    Either live your life or die tryin' ...
    RIP to all those adventurous souls <3

  13. Crash site photo, Saturday March 27, likely 4:49 pm

  14. $billions did not buy his own transport, with backup support !

  15. “We have received word that he (Mr David Horvath) is willing to talk to us, just not right now,” Johnson said. “Recuperating from those injuries is paramount. We’re going to make sure that he’s able to talk to us and give us a good chronological order of what took place up to just before the accident.”

    Concerning ELT
    The NTSB team also found the emergency locator transmitter. The transmitters are designed to give an alert and send a signal to rescuers with the GPS coordinates in the event of a crash. For reasons not yet known, the Rescue Coordination Center, which is operated on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage by the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing, didn’t receive the alert.

    “The rescue coordination center did not receive the signal. So we’re going to be looking very closely at the reason for that,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it was damaged. We did find it, but we’re in the process of evaluating that.”

  16. "Horváth's condition improved at the end of last week, and representatives of the hospital told ČTK on Wednesday that they no longer had this patient on record. Whether this means that Horváth was discharged from the hospital is not clear, however, as Horváth's name may have been removed from the list of patients whose condition the hospital may report."

    Well, look on P4-NGK (4844B2) to get some clue what is going on

    1. The 737 registered to Petr Kellner - PPF Group (P4-NGK) flight track from April 6 is here:

    2. On the way back, will see if any stopover in France planned ...

    3. Flew Alaska to CZ, then a separate hop to France and back to CZ. The UTC day rollover while in flight from Alaska put the final portion and landing in CZ into 9 April ADS-B track. Presumably, the France hop was for Mr. Benjamin Larochaix.

    4. The Kellner 737 flight may have included care flight return of the survivor to recuperate in a Czech hospital. No reason to leave Mr. Horváth behind in Anchorage if his condition was sufficient to take that return flight home.

  17. Reporting that they "found" the ELT transmitter implies that it did not stay in place. Kannad 406 AF-H is an example ELT used on AS350b3 helicopters, normally strapped to a tray with a coaxial cable attached between it and a remote antenna.

    Should not be a mystery that no ELT signal was received if it did not stay in the tray. Once the antenna cable is parted, no way it could transmit unless they had the "P" version and someone pulled it out of the tray and installed the portable whip antenna:

  18. Next week we see hopefully

    Anyone knows the cabin layout of that helicopter? I guess it had two cyclic sticks, that could be the trouble ...



    Leaving a rotors running helicopter unoccupied, relying on collective friction and a steady wind, might just be a bigger risk than the flight itself…

  21. It may not be realistic to expect the survivor to give investigators info about the accident circumstances. Accident survivors are not obligated to tell investigators what took place, and providing too much detail at this point in time could diminish opportunities to be compensated for his injuries.

  22. Replies
    1. 61.44597, -148.37964 is the approximate center of the circular TFR that was in place for recovery operations.

    2. NOTAM for the TFR showed 61º26'50"N, 148º23'28"W as the center.

    3. TFR center 61º26'50"N, 148º23'28"W mapped:'50.0%22N+148%C2%B023'28.0%22W/@61.4500579,-148.3944263,2919m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d61.4472222!4d-148.3911111

  23. The key is to find a pilot who is also a billionaire, so he is comfortable enough to say "no" to you since he isn't so worried about being replaced by someone even more desperate for a heli pilot job.

    "Yes, Kobe."

    Harsh, but true.

  24. When I saw this on evening news, first thought was "Rotor hit the mountain while dropping skiers on a steep slope; roll-roll-roll and so on and so forth."

    They roll crazy in Alaska that way; I remember in college at parties with snowboarder friends they always had videos of snowboarder wunderkind doing amazing - and incredibly dangerous stuff - in Alaska after getting dropped by helicopters.

    And even then I recall noting the helicopters were doing stuff more dangerous than the snowboarders just to get them there. Rotor-blades two feet from a slope while in a white-out from said rotor-blades etc. This was sadly bound to happen.

  25. NTSB Preliminary report is out. Recovery of a handheld GPS unit containing track data that includes the final three minutes of maneuvering at the accident ridge line was useful.

    1. Additional info. Survivor has been interviewed:

    2. Interesting. I wonder if this was outside their normal operating procedures, as it appears to be a "hot unload" area vs land and shutdown -- perhaps in unfamiliar terrain?

      The fact that a billionaire / VIP was onboard certainly raises the question of whether a contributory factor may have been pressure to please the VIP, a/k/a "VIP Passenger Syndrome". This phenomenon has killed many. [A few come to mind: N303GA in Aspen; Kobe Bryant; Smolensk air disaster]

    3. Familiarity shouldn't have been a problem, Guides would likely take a VIP client to lines the guides had experienced previously and the helicopter company is based in Wasilla.

      Reasons for maneuvering over the ridgeline for several minutes include picking the touchdown spot and/or dealing with unfavorable wind conditions. Reconstruction of the track from the GPS recording should provide insight on that.

      Videos from multiple heli-ski operators make it appear that narrow ridge drop-offs are routinely done as hot unload and short duration.

    4. Thanks -- great insight.

      Assuming no mechanical issues with the heli, I would think spatial disorientation would be a likely theory, either due to prevailing visibility, flat lighting, visual illusions, rotor-wash whiteout, etc...

    5. The ridge approach at 1:16 in the video below of a Chugach drop off by another operator doesn't look too bad for rotor-wash whiteout.

  26. Not a CFIT at speed and the survivor says no pre-accident trouble with the helicopter.

    Have to wonder if there could have been another survivor rescued if it had been possible to know the crash occurred. ELT relying on external antenna connected by a cable is unlikely to do the job in a similar downhill scenario.

    Seems like that other billionaire who is putting up those Starlink satellites could eventually offer inflight monitoring that detects when a uplink signal is lost instead of hoping a crashed onboard system would begin to transmit.

    1. Do these operators do active flight tracking (vs passive "exception" tracking, like overdue, etc.)?

  27. Interesting safety flaw of AS350B3?

    Delayed Emergency Response

    The NTSB state the accident occurred at 10:57 Local Time. No Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) signal was detected (one might suppose due to damage to the wiring between the unit and antenna, a sadly common failure in helicopter accidents).

    The NTSB do not give further details of the emergency response in their report but local press reports state that the US Coast Guard were not alerted until 18:30 and a helicopter was not dispatched until 20:15, locating the boy about 2 hours later. The survivor was not surprisingly suffering from hypothermia.

    Interview data in the public docket suggests the last satellite tracking signal was received at the safety pilot’s company at 10:51. They however assumed that the hand held Garmin inReach unit had not been charged sufficiently the previous night and so took no action until early evening when they realised the aircraft had not reached its destination for the day.

    1. Not really a design flaw - ELT systems are easily rendered unusable by a crash. Satellite supported automated flight following equipment (AFF) that uplinks data every two minutes can be the fix for that.

      AFF doesn't require the equipment to continue operating after the crash event. Do have to pay for the satlink service and your company dispatcher has to watch for lost signal and respond appropriately.

      It is interesting to read about the N907PL flight that used the Garmin inReach AFF. The operator's experience was that the end to end functionality wasn't solid, so rescue was delayed by interpretation that it had just stopped working, not that there was a crash.

      Best laid plans can also fail.

  28. Do heli-ski ops do "on-slope" landings similar to this?