Tragic details after $23bn businessman dies in helicopter crash

Brianne Tolj
·4-min read

The helicopter carrying Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, 56, just missed clearing an Alaskan ridge by three to five metres when it crashed, preliminary investigations show.

Mr Kellner, who is worth an estimated US$17.5 billion (A$23 billion) according to Forbes, was one of five passengers on board the fatal flight on Saturday (local time).

It’s been reported the group was on a helicopter-skiing excursion north of Anchorage when the Airbus AS350 B3 slammed into a mountain and rolled hundreds of metres.

Mr Kellner, the richest man in the Czech Republic; Benjamin Larochaix, 50, from the Czech Republic; Gregory Harms, 52, of Colorado; and two Alaska residents – 38-year-old Sean McManamy, from Girdwood, and 33-year-old pilot Zachary Russel, from Anchorage – all died at the scene.

An undated handout picture shows Czech billionaire Petr Kellner who was killed in a helicopter crash in Alaska.
Petr Kellner, who is worth an estimated A$23 billion according to Forbes, was one of five passengers onboard the fatal flight. Source: PPF Group/Handout via REUTERS

The survivor, identified as 48-year-old David Horvath from the Czech Republic, was listed in serious condition on Monday, Mike Canfield, a spokesman at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, said.

Tragically, early investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reveal the helicopter appears to have hit the mountain three metres to 4.57 metres below a mountain ridgeline.

It then rolled 244 to 274 metres downhill, NTSB member Thomas Chapman said during a recent briefing.

The helicopter was heard from on 6.34pm on Saturday and another aircraft found the wreckage about 9.30pm, Mr Chapman said.

The weather was noted as “relatively clear” when the helicopter was found, but Mr Chapman said “the area is very rugged, both in terms of terrain and in terms of weather conditions”, according to Bloomberg.

Mr Chapman said the team investigating the crash would look at airworthiness, operations, meteorology, structures, helicopter performance, recording devices and human performance.

“Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why and to recommend changes to prevent it from happening again,” he said.

The wreckage of the helicopter seen in snow near the Knik Glacier in Alaska.
The scene of a helicopter crash near the Knik Glacier in Alaska on Sunday. Source: Lance Flint/Alaska Mountain Rescue Group via AP

Petr Kellner was 'frequent' lodge guest

The five passengers included three guests and two guides from the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, company spokesperson Mary Ann Pruitt said.

Mr Kellner and Mr Larochaix “were loyal and frequent” guests at the lodge, Ms Pruitt said.

Mr Harms was a pioneering heli-ski guide in Alaska and worked for many years at the lodge, she added.

“Greg was one of the most experienced guides in the business,” she said.

Petr Kellner, pictured top left, is watching daughter Anna Kellnerova compete in the equestrian CET Prague Cup.
Mr Kellner watches as his daughter, Anna Kellnerova, and horse Catch Me If You Can Old compete during the equestrian CET Prague Cup. Source: Roman Vondrous/CTK via AP

Mr McManamy had been a guide for more than 10 years and was also an experienced mountain guide on Denali, North America’s tallest peak.

Mr Russel was a pilot for Soloy Helicopters, a company that is contracted by the lodge to provide transportation, Ms Pruitt said.

The bodies of the victims were recovered on Sunday and have been turned over to the Alaska State Medical Examiner.

Friends and politicians mourn Petr Kellner

Mr Kellner owned a 98.93 per cent stake in the PPF Group, an international investment company.

The group operates in 25 countries across Europe, Asia and North America, with assets amounting to 44 billion euros.

Its business includes financial services, financial services, telecommunications, media, biotechnology, real estate and mechanical engineering.

Volunteers of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group work near the scene of the helicopter crash.
Alaska Mountain Rescue Group volunteers work near the scene of the helicopter crash. Source: Lance Flint/Alaska Mountain Rescue Group via AP

Mr Kellner was a former co-owner of Czech soccer club Slavia Prague, although it’s been noted he kept a low public profile and rarely spoke to the media.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who offered his condolences to Mr Kellner’s family, said the crash was “an absolute tragedy”.

In a statement, PPF Group asked for people to respect the family’s privacy.

It said the funeral would be private. Mr Kellner is said to have been married twice and had four children.

with AP

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