We spent the whole summer of 2012 investigating. We spent endless hours on the phone with guides from the heliskiing industry, Avalanche Centers in Alaska and National Avalanche Centers, Haines Borough, Federal Bureau of Land Managment, and Alaska Department of Natural Resources. We learned that the Alaska Heliskiing Company operating permit (that was signed and stamped by Haines Borough) was five years outdated. We learned that permit requirements and compliance to policies, procedures, and protocols in the Operating Plan had been broken, resulting in the deaths of our son, Nickolay Dodov, and Rob Liberman. We found documentation of negligence, unsafe operations and procedures not followed. We learned that Haines Medical Clinic has advanced life support that can sustain life for only two hours. Our son, Nickolay Dodov, was kept in the clinic for over six hours.
Finding out that a political borough is responsible for signing and stamping an operating permit for heliskiing companies was very disturbing. To learn later in our investigation that the borough doesn’t have the budget and expertise to monitor the heliskiing companies was shocking.
We couldn’t find on the Haines Borough web site where to file a complaint. We spent hours and days trying to talk with somebody from the borough to ask where to file. Finally we got in touch with the Haines Borough clerk, Julie Cozzi. We were told that we should call Rob Goldberg and he would explain to us where to file. A couple of days after our conversation with Julie Cozzi, Haines Borough created a page on their web site for filing complaints. In the conversation with Rob Goldberg, he admitted that at the Memorial held for Nick and Rob (after the avalanche accident), Sean Brownell and Vicki Gardner were crying because they were concerned about loosing their business and he (Rob Goldberg) was told by the Alaska HeliSkiing snow forecaster Tim Thomas that the company was aware of the dangerous conditions on the day of March 13th. Rob Goldberg also said that Alaska Heliskiing was the best company.
Here is what a heliskiing guide had to say about Alaska Helisking Company and their guiding school.
“First, you should understand that Alaska Heliskiing’s guide school is not certified by ANY association. Not the American Mountain Guides Assocation, or the National Red Cross or the Heliski US. To my knowledge, AK Heli-Skiing guide school is a great resource for people who are looking to get into guiding, but the main reason is to make money. They offer this course to ski-bums who dream of being a heli-guide, only to string them along, teach them some skills (only pertinent to heli-skiing), have them work for free, fuel helicopters, and clean dishes and lastly, make them pay for it.” They are saying that they are setting the standard of heliskiing in Alaska.
Thats the thing; its companies like these that are making these outrageous
claims that they are “creating” and “setting” the standard when its these
companies that should be investigated the most.” An organization has to exists not to make money but create protocols that are necessary in running a “safe” work
On August 17, 2012 we filed a complaint to Haines Borough along with 20 pages of supporting material.
We requested all actions taken on March 13, 2012 by Alaska Heliskiing prior to and after the avalanche be thoroughly investigated. We requested Haines Borough to take action and hold Alaska Heliskiing accountable for their non-adherence to compliance regulations in the Operating Permit and the consequences to be a NON-RENEWAL status of Alaska Helisking Operating Permit from all current and future governing authorities: Haines Borough, Department of Natural Recourses and Federal Bureau of Land Management.
Full Copies of Our;
There was another article in Chilkat Valley News with controversial statements from Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH) and State Trooper Bentz . On March 29, 2012 Assistant Chief of Enforcement for Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH), Keith Bailey stated:
“The accident is under investigation by the state’s Office of Occupational Safety and Health, but the agency’s final report will await coroners’ reports on the two deaths and may not be public for months”. It is not clear if AKOSH received a report from the coroner, with a toxicology report of the deceased Rob Liberman, that shows in his blood high levels of marijuana THC. This important information wasn’t included in AKOSH accident report.
Alaska Heliskiing filed with OSHA;
FY 2012,3/31/2012,3/13/2012,”AlaskaHeliskiing LLC, Hanes, … FY 2012,4/14/2012,4/11/2012,”NC Dept. of Public Safety, Spruce Pine, …
Fiscal Year ,Summary Report Date,Date of Incident,Preliminary Description of Incident FY 2012,3/31/2012,3/13/2012,"Alaska Heliskiing LLC, Hanes, AK 998273",Worker at a snow ski resort was buried under nearly eight feet of snow after an avalanche.
Rob Liberman was killed during commercial heliskiing operation in the backcountry, not at a ski resort.
On March 19, 2012 Sarah Fletcher (CSHO) had a conference call with the Alaska Heliskiing attorney, Tracy L. Knutson, who was presented as Alaska Heliskiing general counsel. On March 20, Sarah Fletcher stated that she would not conduct a site investigation. Nine days after this on March 29, The Assistant Chief of Enforcement for Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH), Keith Bailey, told Chilkat Valley News that there is ongoing investigation.
From AKOSH Accident report;
“On March 19, 2012, I (CSHO Fletcher) was dispatched by Chief of Enforcement , Steve Standley to investigate a fatality that wasn’t reported to Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH), and occurred during a ski and snowboarding excursion on Tahkin Ridge on March 13, 2012 by Alaska Heliskiing, LLC, P.O.Box 1448, Haines , AK99827. AKOSH heard about the fatality through the media. Alaska Heliskiing, LLC operates February through May and offers helicopter skiing and snowboarding using state of the art turbine A-Star helicopters.
At 13.40 hours on March 19, 2012, I contacted Base Manager, Orion Koleins who referred me to Alaska Heliskiing general counsel Tracy L.Knutson, who was not aware that they needed to contact OSHA for the fatality. They did contact the Medical Examiner’s office and Department of labors work Compensation. Business license lists Sean Brownell as the registered agent. Miss Knutson stated that Vicki L. Gardner is the sole owner of Alaska Heliskiing, LLC, and Sean Brownell is business partner. Alaska Heliskiing employs twelve to fifteen employees seasonally from February through May. The fatality occurred at Tahkin Ridge on March 13, 2012, at approximately 11.00 hours. The ridge is south of Mile 33 of the Haines Highway. It was a clear day and the terrain was mountainous.
Guide Rob Liberman was fatally inquired wile skiing down Tahkin Ridge. Clieant #4 from Telluride, Colorado was snowboarding down Tahking Ridge, and was also fatally injured. They were on their 3rd or 4th run when the avalanche occurred. Second guide in the area, Gabe Gioffre came around the corner and saw the avalanche. Mr. Gioffre contacted base and base notified emergency responders. The equipment involved on this trip was a helicopter, ski’s, snowboards, avalanche detectors, beacons, shovels and probes.
I conducted an opening and closing conference with Alaska Heliskiing LLC’s counsel Miss Knutson on March 20, 2012 at 14.25hours via teleconference. I explained why I had contacted her in regards not to informing AKOSH within 8 hours of fatality. I EXPLAINED I WOULD NOT BE CONDUCTING A SITE INVESTIGATION and went over the opening conference check list. I requested OSHA 300 logs for the years 2011, 2010, 2009.
Based on the findings and information obtained, the following alleged violation was noted:
- FAILURE TO NOTIFY OSHA WITHIN 8 HOURS OF FATALY.
I covered all 11 items on the closing conference checklist, recommended the use of consultation and training, encourage informal conference with the chief of enforcement, covered the Protection Part of OSH act, provided the client representative via fax of the employer responsibilities, following an AKOSH inspection and a list of safety websites. Closing conference concluded at 14.50 hours.
The type of the violation was concluded SERIOUS, and yet there was no investigation. Alaska Heliskiing was fined $750.
The information given by the Alaska Heliskiing attorney wasn’t correct; Rob Liberman was from Telluride, Colorado, our son Nickolay Dodov was from Truckee, California. The trip was not an excursion it was a commercial heliskiing operation, where the clients pay top dollar for guiding services.
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In conversation with Keith Baily, we were told that AKOSH investigators couldn’t investigate because Alaska Heliskiing was closed for the season, and they couldn’t talk to the owners and the guides and take statements from the eyewitnesses. There was a statute of limitations of 180 days and after this AKOSH closed the case.
In the Chilkat Valley News article Trooper Bentz stated that all of the eyewitnesses statements were the same, stating that the clients didn’t check the snow. In a heliskiing commercial operation the clients pay the guiding service to check the snow and they sign a waver to follow the guiding instructions. Trooper Bentz has been using in his report and the in the newspaper articles only the statements from Ike Bailey and Brandon Corbett. If he had the other survivors Casey Osteen and Ryan Kirkpatrick’s statments he would know that Rob Liberman did snow stability check on the run prior to the avalanche, and he didn’t check the snow on the run where the avalanche occurred.
We spoke to Ethan Greene, The Director of Colorado Avalanche Center. He was concerned why Alaska Heliskiing ignored the avalanche conditions. He was concerned about the slow and inadequate search and rescue. He was concerned why a political borough is responsible for issuing operating permits for the heliskiing companies.
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
By Tom Morphet
Coordinates put avalanche inside heli-ski zone
Coordinates provided to Alaska State Troopers last week by Alaska Heliskiing put the site of the company’s March 13 fatal accident five miles southwest of the Tsirku River’s “Devil’s Elbow,” inside the Haines Borough’s helicopter skiing boundaries.
Commercial pilot Paul Swanstrom, who flew in the area last week, said he spotted a slide there that a nearby heli-ski pilot identified to him as likely the one involved in the accident.
Trooper Josh Bentz said the company also provided photos of the avalanche site March 21 identified as ones approved by the firm’s attorneys. The photos, which Bentz declined to make public, show a bowl that generally matches Swanstrom’s description of the slide site as “more of a gentler slope.”
The company told Bentz a delay in releasing the information was due to a heavy workload in the wake of the fatal slide.
The accident is under investigation by the state’s Office of Occupational Safety and Health, but the agency’s final report will await coroners’ reports on the two deaths and may not be public for months, said Keith Bailey, assistant chief of enforcement.
The agency enforces federal workplace safety laws in Alaska, but avalanche regulations fall under parameters for construction sites in avalanche zones, not recreation uses, Bailey said. “There are not really any (regulatory) standards for this.”
Bailey said agency reports typically include interviewing those on the scene and include recommendations on preventing such accidents in the future.
Dwight Bailey, a skier in the group involved in the slide and no relation to the state safety official, told troopers he and other clients didn’t perform stability tests on the slope before they started skiing down it, and he didn’t remember seeing guide Rob Liberman conduct such tests.
Trooper Bentz, who interviewed the four surviving clients in the party, said there were no discrepancies in their accounts of what occurred. “They all thought they were doing everything they could to be safe.”
Ethan Greene, director of ColoradoAvalancheInformationCenter, a clearinghouse for avalanche reports nationwide, said his group is awaiting a report of the avalanche from the company.
“We’ve been told there are still legal issues surrounding the incident. (The company) didn’t want to give us everything until things were cleared up,” Greene said.
Information submitted by Alaska Heliskiing to his group may not include much detail but that wouldn’t be uncommon for avalanches involving commercial outfits, Greene said.
Avalanche reports are voluntary in most states outside of Colorado, where a state agency is involved.
“In the absence of professional avalanche groups in the area, (an investigation) usually falls on the operator. In those situations, sometimes we get a lot of information, and sometimes we don’t,” Greene said. “There’s no mandate to do (a report). We just basically put up anything they decide to send us.”
One exception in Alaska is accidents involving avalanches on U.S. Forest Service land, such as the ChugachNational Forest in southcentral Alaska. There, the Forest Service would likely be involved in an investigation, particularly to see if the agency’s operating plan for the activity was being followed, Greene said.
“It’s different in a place where you have a government group that’s doing avalanche work,” Greene said.
Greene described the AlaskaAvalancheInformationCenter as an information-sharing group.
The Alaska center started in 2008. A HainesAvalancheInformationCenter was launched by resident Erik Stevens in 2010. The statewide group named Stevens as the Haines-area forecaster. The group insures Stevens’ work, oversees his forecast and provides peer review.
Trooper Bentz didn’t investigate the avalanche accident. He closed the case with the conclusion: Non Criminal. AKOSH didn’t investigate. They fined the company $750. Alaska Heliskiing filed controversial information to OSHA and to the trooper.