Our mission is to promote snow sport safety and awareness through fun, hands on educational programs and events. Our goal is to inspire children and enthusiasts of all ages to explore the beauty of the mountains and ocean, while maintaining a healthy and positive lifestyle.
The Nickolay Dodov Foundation is committed to carrying on Nick’s legacy and spirit with the hope of preventing future accidents.
The Nickolay Dodov Foundation is a registered 501 Non-Profit organization.
At age three, Nickolay Dodov started skiing. By six and a half, he could handle the runs of his home mountains by himself. At eight, he strapped on a snowboard and fell in love. Nick’s passion led to competition both in Bulgaria, where he was born and lived until age thirteen, and in the United States, after his family settled in the small, mountain community of Bear Valley, California. Eventually, Nick brought his passion and skills to the backcountry, sharing experiences, encouragement and the amazing outdoors with kindred spirits in stunning terrain.
In March of 2012, Nick was killed in an avalanche while snowboarding in Haines, Alaska.The loss of his life has borne the Nickolay Dodov Foundation and prompts us to look with great care and deliberation at snow sports industry safety standards, as well as “the human factor” in extreme sports. We believe that through continuing snow sports safety awareness education, an individual strengthens his or her ability to assess situational safety in snow sports activities.
Nickolay was a beloved son, athlete, teammate, artist and teacher. A shining light with a great passion for life, Nickolay lived with heart. We wish you the same and strive to help provide access to information and skills that will enable you to participate in activities equipped with outdoor readiness.
OUR UPCOMING EVENTS:
With your support, the Nickolay Dodov Foundation will participate in school and mountain-based educational programs focusing on snow sports safety and backcountry avalanche awareness.
*Check our website for additions & updates!
*Bear Valley Mountain Safety Week: January 18-24
Snow Sports Safety Talk & Information Booth
at Bear Valley Mountain’s Winter Explosion!
*Avalanche training with Mountain Adventure Seminars.
Tax-deductible donations accepted online or at the mailing address below!
Thank you for your support.
PO Box 5035
Bear Valley, CA 95223
We presented Nickolay Dodov Foundation at the Annual Winter Fest in Bear Valley Ski Resort, California the weekend of November 29th and 30th, 2013. Thank you to the great team of board members; Joel Barnett, Lauren Schimke, Stephanie Forbes, John Jackson, Cate Wallenfels and Mike Page! Thank you to John Jackson who was signing autographs in support of the Foundation and sharing his love for snowboarding. Great to share the Foundation with so many people and see so many kids’ smiling faces! Thank you for all the love and support! Keep sharing our mission! The Foundation is grateful for all the support!
Nick was born free on February 15/1986 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He lived all his life free and he left this world free.
Every winter on Nick’s Birthday would always snow a lot. We were very young when we had Nick, Natalia was 17 and Alex was 22. Our life back in Bulgaria was spent between camping by the Black Sea every summer and skiing the mountains in the winter. At the beach Nick, being two and a half years old and butt naked was making friends with the whole campground.
At three and a half we put Nick on a pair of
skis. By the age of six and half he was skiing by himself the whole mountains.
At the age of eight he converted to snowboarding and ever since he dedicated his life to snowboarding.
Three years ago after surgery to repair a torn ACL Nick, being in pain and grumpy…
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We have spent endless hours investigating the circumstances of our son’s death.
Here is a summary of our investigation:
Winter season 2011/2012 had a record snowfall with high rated avalanche danger for Alaska. There was 3-5 feet of new accumulated snow the day prior to the avalanche incident. Wind storm the night prior to the avalanche had changed the snow pack. According to eyewitness’s statement, five days of storm meant “no economy that week” for Guide Company Alaska Helisking LLC. (AH). On March 13, 2012, the company ignored the dangerous conditions, and an urge to make money pushed the guides and the clients to go ski.
On the morning of the avalanche incident, the Haines Avalanche Information Center recorded an avalanche warning rating of : Considerable; Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential. Snow condition when natural avalanches are possible; Human triggered avalanche likely.
View original post 7,096 more words
We have spent endless hours investigating the circumstances of our son’s death.
Here is a summary of our investigation:
Winter season 2011/2012 had a record snowfall with high rated avalanche danger for Alaska. There was 3-5 feet of new accumulated snow the day prior to the avalanche incident. Wind storm the night prior to the avalanche had changed the snow pack. According to eyewitness’s statement, five days of storm meant “no economy that week” for Guide Company Alaska Helisking LLC. (AH). On March 13, 2012, the company ignored the dangerous conditions, and an urge to make money pushed the guides and the clients to go ski.
On the morning of the avalanche incident, the Haines Avalanche Information Center recorded an avalanche warning rating of : Considerable; Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential. Snow condition when natural avalanches are possible; Human triggered avalanche likely. Haines Avalanche Information Center reports “This very heavy new load fell atop a snowpack with at least three distinct, widespread weak layers, as well as its own “upside-down” storm-snow weaknesses. The top foot or so is loose and makes for great skiing, but poorly bonded and very reactive.”
Guide Company (AH) was aware of the unstable and dangerous snow condition (based on film footage from the morning meeting of AH on March 13, before the avalanche incident). Two avalanche forecasts were given (with and without wind deposit snow) by leading guide Rob Liberman to the heli guides. Liberman was aware of surface hoar growth the day before. He said if wind was to deposit snow on that layer, it would be a reactive layer, (If surface hoar layer is buried is potential avalanche danger). After the morning meetings (including March 13), the guide members of AH routinely went to the shack in the premises of AH base where they smoked marijuana.
Our son Nickolay Dodov’s group was not informed about the dangerous snow conditions. “We are taking you to the bunny hill” indicating an attitude of casualness as client Dwell Bailey didn’t even take his 2nd safety device along, (air bag pack) , Bailey said “It wasn’t apparent to any of us /the clients/ that it was a danger”, was his statement. On the run prior to the avalanche incident, a snow pack evaluation was done. It showed dangerous conditions, and so the group was taken on an alternative route. Instead of calling the day off because of the dangerous conditions, Liberman told the group that the company was already paying for the helicopter, and persuaded them “lets go find better snow”. Guide Rob Liberman took them to a run called “Swanny”. The clients were concerned that the snow conditions looked suspicious. Liberman didn’t check the snow and assured them, “Don’t be concerned. It’s just an alpine bowl and the snow should be fine”; as documented on Go-Pro footage. (An alpine bowl with rolling hills and multiple gullies with steepness 25-40* with unstable new accumulated snow and wind slab that could break in long running fractures if they are over a weak layer is potential avalanches danger). This was the run on which the avalanche occurred.
Alaska Heliskiing rents inflatable airbag backpacks that keep skiers atop avalanches and could save a life. For safety in the helicopter, AH makes clients wearing the inflatable air backpacks to zip closed the deployment cord. There is a safety concern that the airbag might accidentally inflate in the helicopter possibly causing a crash. Rob Liberman wasn’t wearing any safety devises. (i.e. breathing device such as AvaLung and inflatable air backpack). Nor did he check the readiness of the client’s inflatable air backpacks once outside the helicopter before the run. Our son was wearing both devises; he was found under the snow with his air backpack deployment cord zipped up, inaccessible.
Nickolay Dodov was directed by Rob Liberman, “go to the right, there is better powder there”. This triggered 800 feet wide avalanche, with depth of the crown 16 inches to 6 feet. Search and rescue was slow and inadequate. AH operating permit states; To locate victim as soon as possible use all heliski groups already in the field. Sixteen people were at the scene of the avalanche; (5 clients and a guide on the top on “Swanny” Ridge, 5 clients and a guide in approaching helicopter when the avalanche released, and four survivors). Film footage is recording a guide named Nick Barlow waiting on some slope. His skis are off and it appears he is the guide with another group. The film records the audio words coming over his radio from the helicopter approaching the scene, the words come over the radio from Gabe, “Rob, Rob do you copy? I need you to get on Robs’s frequency right now…and get a count ASAP. I want you guys to hold tight…there’s hangfire. I’m going to put myself on-slope I’m going in”. The first guide was dropped on the scene approximately 25-30 minutes after the avalanche released, according to eyewitness statement. The group of the survivors didn’t have a radio to communicate to the base, as they should have according to the safety regulations. When a guide takes a group solo he has to have a client with a radio trained to take action in case the guide is buried in an avalanche. Survivor eyewitness Brandon Corbet, had his Go Pro camera on. He revealed that he had erased from the actual footage the search and rescue but kept only 36 still images. He revealed that only three of the surviving clients and two guides were involved in the search and rescue. He revealed the actual time line from the time the victims were buried until their bodies were recovered was 47 minutes. After 47 minutes the place was swamped with other guides. (A person located in the first 15 minutes has an approximately 90 percent chance of survival. The probability of survival drops off rapidly after that time. After 90 minutes, the probability of survival is approximately 25 percent).
Rob Liberman was flown straight to Haines Medical Clinic. Transportation of the unconscious Nickolay Dodov to a hospital was untimely: Nickolay was first taken to the base. According to eyewitness when Nick was brought to the base he was not responsive and that is when they stopped giving him CPR. Nickolay was dead. An ambulance arrived 37 minutes later. The ambulance was at the base for 28 min. Then Nick was driven 40 minutes to Haines Medical Clinic. It takes only 9 minutes by air from the avalanche site to Haines Medical Clinic. The total time from the time Nick was buried under the snow until his arrived in the Haines Medical Clinic was 2 hours and 32 minutes. According to eyewitness statement AH didn’t have adequate number of helicopters for the numbers of clients they had at the time to respond timely and sufficient to search and rescue operation. AH operating permit states; If necessary, the victim will be transported directly to Haines Medical Clinic or Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau for treatment.
Somewhere on the way to the clinic, or in the clinic Nick’s heart was revived. Nickolay Dodov arrived in Haines Medical Clinic 1.02pm on March 13, 2012. The Haines Medical Clinic revealed that they provide only 2 hours of life support. Nickolay was kept at the Clinic for over 6 hours.
Nickolay Dodov was transported to a hospital in Seattle, WA, where he arrived 1.30am on March 14, and where he was declared dead. According to the doctors from TraumaCenter in Seattle his actual death occurred in Alaska. Nickolay was transported out of the state of Alaska, to prevent a state investigation
Alaska Heliskiing LLC stated in their 2012 operating permit;
“Pilots and guides each have an equally difficult task in assuring the safety and happiness of the helicopter skiing client. Pilots and guides must work together as a team helping each other to overcome the dangers of this activity and profession. People who come to ski/snowboard with us are spending a lot of money and in some cases save for years just to afford one trip like this in a lifetime. Therefore, we must try to do everything in our power to assure their total safety and complete satisfaction. We can only accomplish this as a team with open communications, understanding, patience, consideration, and respect. Any deficiency in any of these qualities or operation must be discussed and rectified. Our team abilities, environment, safety skills, and superior attitude are what will give our clients an amazing experience, and keep them coming back.”
THE GOALS OF THE SAFETY PLAN OF Alaska Heliskiing
“The goal of this safety plan is to develop a backcountry skiing program that will promote the safety of our guests. A degree of hazard is inseparable from the use of alpine winter recreation areas where severe weather and rugged terrain is often encountered. Careful compliance with this plan, however, will minimize the danger and help to safeguard the public from foreseeable hazards.”
In the deadly avalanche accident of March 13, 2012, Alaska Heliskiing ignored the dangerous conditions, and in an urge to make money pushed the guides and the clients to go ski.
AH knew that the avalanche danger was high, did not tell its clients about the dangerous conditions and instead persuaded them not to be concerned about conditions. The clients were not adequately warned or informed of the inherent dangers the day of March 13. The clients did not receive proper instruction on use of safety equipment. The trip was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guide used bad judgment. The rescue was overly lengthy and complicated and lead to the death of the client. Permit requirements and compliance to policies, procedures, and protocols in the tour company’s Operations Plan were broken contributing to the death of our son Nickolay Dodov.
Alaska Heliskiing LLC didn’t follow the safety plan and search and rescue protocols from their operating permit, they only followed the risk management and guidelines for handling an accident and how to deal with victims family and media.
Risk Management is the process of doing everything you can to protect people, property, and assets from losses.
There is a lot more to Risk Management than simply buying insurance. When you purchase insurance you really have entered into a partnership with your insurance program. It is your combined assets that are at stake. If you approach this matter casually your insurance program will be looking for a new partner: as well, the future of recreation will be compromised.
To further understand the importance of Risk Management, it is useful to look at the five most common allegations of a lawsuit against Recreation Service Providers:
A. The injured was not adequately warned and informed of the inherent dangers.
B. The injured did not receive proper instruction on skills and the use of equipment.
C. The trip was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
D. The guide used bad judgment.
E. The rescue was overly lengthy and complicated and subjected the injured to undo pain and suffering.
GUIDELINES FOR HANDLING AN ACCIDENT
What To Say, Not Say, Do, and Not Do
Often the opportunity to defend an Outfitter or Guide against frivolous litigation is lost in the few days after the accident occurs. As time goes by, memories fade, details are forgotten, and the opportunity to put a professional face on the entire incident is lost. Quite often litigation attorneys wait until the Statute of Limitations almost expires before they file the lawsuit. Their hope and the reality unfortunately, too often is that by the time the lawsuit is filed, so much has been lost and forgotten that it becomes impossible and impractical to defend the outfitter against the lawsuit. The sooner and the earlier information is gathered and obtained concerning the accident, the better your chances are of affecting a positive outcome if faced with a potentially damaging litigation.
The following guidelines will help the concerned Outfitter and Guide to handle accident situations properly and help avoid this type of litigation. Please remember speed is of the essence. Any delay could end up costing the Outfitting industry, and ultimately the Outfitter, thousands of dollars in legal fees and higher insurance premiums.
RELATIONSHIP TO THE INJURED
Lawsuits are entered by injured parties when they feel that the Outfitter has not demonstrated the highest level of care and concern for their well being and personal safety. This care and concern starts before the accident, and should be an ongoing element of the entire trip. Learning peoples names, responding to them as individuals, and showing care and concern for their well being throughout the trip is probably as important, if not more important than the care and concern you show to them once the accident has occurred. Remember to make friends. You are less likely to sue your friends. Search and Rescue experts and Psychologists have taught us that injured persons respond better and develop lesser degrees of shock, if one individual is assigned to that person, stays with that person throughout the evacuation, rides with them in the ambulance or vehicle to the hospital. Checks them into the hospital, remains with them in the waiting room and gives them the same kind of care and attention that a parent would give their child. This consistent thread from the accident site through the evacuation, into the hospital, has a calming and settling effect on accident victims. It is often the most important factor in discouraging accident victims from going into litigation. Do no give them an opportunity to get upset.
As well, the comfort and psychological well being of the rest of the trip participants is an important factor.
Other individuals, family members, and witnesses are going to be canvassed later for their opinion of what happened, what occurred, and what type of care was given to the injured party. These people have in certain situations, become accident victims themselves because of their own mental state and the Outfitters disregard for their well being. Make certain that the entire party is taken care of, administered to, and made comfortable. Their evaluation of what happened will be a critical element of litigation.
1. Not make any guarantees of a speedy evacuation. You can say that you are dong the best you can, that you have sent for help, that we are in a remote situation and it could take some time to get you out.
2. Not make admission of guilt or wrong-doing, such as “We’ve had problems here before”. Comments of this nature will be very damaging in litigation. Do not make value judgments or statements concerning what happened.
3. It is okay to say you’re sorry that they are hurt, that you are doing everything you can to get them out as fast as you can, and to show empathy and sympathy for what they are experiencing.
4. Obtain as many pictures as possible of the accident site and the accident victim. Pay particular
attention to the terrain encountered by the accident victim immediately before the accident occurred.
As well canvas all participants to see if by chance some might have recorded the accident on film.
NOTE: Accidents with known injurious consequences involving evacuations and transportation to medical personnel for further evaluation and treatment must be reported to the Insurance Company by the Association Member within 72 hours.
COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE NEWS MEDIA
If there has been a fatality, the prudent Outfitter can count on some contact with the News Media. Often this contact leads to poorly documented facts of the accident and results in bad publicity and potential litigation problems. The company owner will designate a spokesperson to provide information to the News Media. The spokesperson should do the following.
1. Prepare a factual statement to be reviewed by legal council if necessary.
2. Communicate the statement to the Wire Service, AP, and UPI.
3. Set up a system for handling telephone inquiries.
In the unfortunate event that the News Media has picked up on the fact that there has been an accident, and they arrive at the accident scene, remember, their job is to sell press. They are going to try to sensationalize and dramatize the story as much as possible. They will ask leading questions, make accusatory statements, heckle other members of the party, and press them for statements. These statements may or may not be accurate concerning the events of the accident. At the scene of the accident and or evacuation, it is best to appoint a representative to speak to the press and make very few statements. Encourage them to contact the main office for a further statement. Your best defense is to say “We do not have any comments at this time”.
Try to keep the News Media away from other members of the party, if at all possible.
The following comments are offered as a general guide in dealing with the News Media. You will find the News Media cooperative if you deal with them straightforwardly and with facts subject only to legal constraints, consideration of next of kin, protection of the injured, and good taste. Hesitantly, or improperly dealing with the press in an emergency situation may not only escalate their news coverage, but in the long run can be critically costly to your program, and take a great deal longer to remedy. From a public relations point of view, the objective is to have a one day story, and to avoid a continuing series of headlines and features dragged out over a period of days or weeks.
Most dealings with the News Media will take place over the phone. Rather than reading a canned story to the caller, the spokesperson should have a written list of key points for reference and tell the story in his or her own words. The press will want to know.
What Happened, where it happened, who was involved, why it happened, and background on out
Alaska Heliskiing’s LLC operation permit (issued by Haines Borough) was 5 years outdated. Alaska Heliskiing’s 2012 operating permit (stamped and signed by Haines Borough) states: BLM responsibility of administration of Alaska Heliskiing, LLC helicopter skiing operations include: inspectional of facilities and operation for compliance with the tour permit terms so that public health and safety are protected, and satisfactory public service is provided; Cooperation with Alaska Heliskiing, LLC personnel in avalanche safety with regard to the helicopter skiing program; a close working relationship with the Haines Borough and BLM is desirable. Because BLM had not issued AH permit since 2005, these administration responsibilities were not followed.
Alaska Heliskiing LLC has no current land use permit from the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and has not had one since 2005. If they had attempted to obtain a permit, the BLM would thoroughly screen AH. By definition, BLM is responsible to require and inspect operation and safety plans, perform extensive environmental analysis, perform monitoring, perform evaluations and on-the-ground compliance for any and all Special Recreation Permits.
Date: Tue, 30 Oct 2012 10:36:19 -0600
Subject: RE: we are sending all the information to Alaska Bureau of Investigation
I hope I can help answer and clarify your questions below.
First, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) thoroughly screens applicants; requires and inspects operation and safety plans; performs extensive environmental analysis; and performs monitoring, performance evaluations, and on-the-ground compliance on any and all Special Recreation Permits we issue on the lands we manage. With respect to the unfortunate incident that occurred earlier this year near Haines, the accident occurred on non-BLM managed lands and I understand was operating under an authorization administered by the Haines Borough. I’m not fully engaged as to what the permit requirements and compliance process is for the Haines Borough.Second, I need to reiterate that Alaska Heliski does not have a BLM permit for 2012. This company did in fact submit an application with our office requesting to operate on BLM lands in 2012 but we didn’t issue them a permit. This is related to my previous message that no new applications will be processed or approved until we have completed our Ring of Fire Resource Management Plan Amendment for the Haines area, which includes an analysis of permitted helicopter activities. Third, I don’t understand you’re third question. Can you please rephrase it.Also if helpful, I’ve attached a color-coded land ownership map of the Haines area so you can see where BLM managed lands and jurisdiction are as compared to State/Haines Borough lands. The checkerboard land ownership pattern in Alaska can be quite confusing. Just remember that lands listed as Selected and colored light blue or beige on the attached map are currently managed by the BLM, until such time the lands are approved or not for conveyance to another land owner. Our office has not issued any permits for commercial heliski activities in the Haines area since 2005
To further answer your question from below, BLM applicants and permittees are required to comply with all Federal, State, and local laws; ordinances; regulations; orders; postings; or written requirements applicable to the area or operations covered by the Special Recreation Permit (SRP or permit). Therefore, applicants in the Haines area may be required to submit additional supplemental information, such as a letter or permit granting permission to use private or other agency land in conjunction with public land (e.g. Haines Borough Commercial Use Permit for Alaska Heliski). Bottom line, Alaska Heliski may have wanted or thought they were going to be issued a BLM permit in 2012 but the BLM manager told them we will not be issuing any permits for commercial heliski activities until our current land use planning effort is complete.
Regarding any correspondence I may have received from a Tim Thomas from last October, I’ve checked my archive email and files and I don’t have anything from this individual. In fact, my point-of-contact with Alaska Heliski’s last submitted application with our office is Sean Brownell and I don’t recall ever speaking to the individual you mentioned.
Yes, BLM has several recreation permit specialists in Alaska who perform permit administration and compliance. I don’t have any knowledge of who’s performing similar duties for the Haines Borough regarding surrounding State lands.
Again, please feel free to call me anytime.
Outdoor Recreation Planner
Anchorage Field Office
4700 BLM Road
Anchorage, Alaska 99507
Alaska Heliskiing LLC has no current land use permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and has not had one since 2008. By definition of DNR regulations, Alaska Heslikiing LLC is criminally trespassing on StateLand. The incident happened on StateLand managed by DNR. Alaska Heslikiing LLC not having a DNR permit has not been inspected and regulated for storing diesel, spill plan and prevention methods. Therefore, Alaska Hesliskiing LLC stored diesel fuel too close to the river.
Subject: Alaska Heliskiing
Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2012 21:04:12 +0000
Natalia and Alex:
I apologize for not responding in a timely manner. Please do not construe my tardy response as me not being sympathetic to your cause or an attempt to hide anything. We have nothing to hide. In fact, we have had several inquiries about our relationship with Alaska Heliskiing and the permits we have issued to them. These inquiries are actually documented and part of the public record.
The last time DNR issued an authorization to Alaska Heliskiing as November, 2008 and it was valid for approximately one month. If their daily client load on state owned land within the Haines State Forest over the past 4 to 5 operating seasons has been 11 or less per day, their activity would have been covered under our Generally Allowed Uses (11 AAC 96.020) provided they registered their Commercial Recreation Day Use with DNR athttp://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/commrec/. Upon checking our Commercial Day Use registration information, it appears as if they did not register their Commercial Recreation Day Use. Alaska Heliskiing not having registered their Commercial Recreation Day Use or secured a DNR land use permit was not authorized to use state owned land within the HainesStateForest for commercial recreation purposes.
If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to call me. I am in the office Monday through Friday 8:00AM – 4:30PM.
David L. Kelley
Regional Manager, SEROLand Office
AK Division of Mining, Land & Water
1 (907) 465-3402
A full copy of ;
Alaska Helissking LLC misrepresented its safety standards and activities, inducing clients to use its services. Alaska Heliskiing LLC claimed on it’s website to be a member of Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, that sets strict safety standards, and the guides meet or exceed the Association requirements. In fact, AHSA does not exist, according to numerous industry operators. These claims were later retracted and removed from the AH website.
The safety section that was removed from AH website;
An article in;
Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966
Heli-ski safety claim in question
By Karen Garcia
Until Tuesday evening, Haines-based Alaska Heliskiing claimed on its website to be a member of the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, which does not exist, according to numerous industry operators.
In the safety section of the company’s website, under the heading “Our Safety Program,” Alaska Heliskiing claimed membership in an organization called the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association.
“AHSA sets strict safety standards for Alaskan helicopter skiing operations and as part of our membership we are required to have our safety systems and procedures reviewed on a regular basis,” the site read.
Numerous heli-ski operators in the state said they had never heard of such an association and that it does not exist.
Scott Sundberg, owner of the Haines-based Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA), said the association was a loose, unofficial group of operators in the early 2000s that “fell on its face” and “fizzled” by 2003. Sundberg said the group never set safety standards and was never responsible for monitoring or reviewing the safety protocols of heli-ski operators in Alaska.
Alaska Heliskiing removed the safety section of its website Tuesday after the CVN sent emails to company officials about the advertised affiliation.
Alaska Heliskiing’s website also stated, under the heading “Our Guides,” that “each of our guides meets or exceeds the requirements of ‘a guide’ as set by the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association.
The website’s statements were described as “not factual” and “fictitious.” by processionals in the heli-skiing industry.
“Of the 19 heli-ski operators in Alaska, there’s one member of the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association. And that’s them,” were the words of professional heli-skiing guide.
Scott Raynor, the owner and operator of Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, said he was not familiar with an Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association. Mark Kelly, of the Valdez-based H2O Guides, also said he “doesn’t believe it exists.”
Alaska Heliskiing’s safety protocols have come under scrutiny recently due to an avalanche last spring which killed an Alaska Heliskiing guide and client.
“When we’re reviewing their permit, if they’re making claims on their website that are erroneous, that would contribute to a negative review of their permit, I would think,” Scott said.
Alaska Heliskiing owner Vicki Gardner did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment. Orion Koleis, the company’s operations manager, did not return an emailed request for comment.
We submitted an “Assembly Action Request” with Haines Borough on 8/17/12. This request for investigation has never been on the agenda for public hearing. Instead it has been held with the Borough attorney. Our request was for a review and investigation from Haines Borough, as they are the ones who administer the original, outdated Heliski operating permit.
After three weeks with no response from Haines Borough we called the editor of Chilkat Valley News, Tom Morphet, he posted two articles in the newspaper;
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Victim’s family: Revoke heli-ski permit
By Tom Morphet
The parents of a 26-year-old man killed by an avalanche during an Alaska Heliskiing tour in March want the Haines Borough to discontinue the company’s permit, saying details of the fatal accident showed the firm did not follow its own, borough-approved operation and safety plan.
“We believe permit requirements and compliance to policies, procedures and protocols in the operations plan have been broken, resulting in the death of Nickolay Dodov. We have documentation of negligence, unsafe operations and procedures not followed,” Alex and Natalia Dodov wrote to the borough Aug. 17.
The couple sent 23 pages of documents including ones comparing the company’s operations and safety plan to details contained in an avalanche incident report written by Alaska Heliskiing guide Kent Scheler.
The complaint became known this week after the Dodovs forwarded it to the Chilkat Valley News. Phone calls and e-mail messages to Alaska Heliskiing Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned to the newspaper.
Alex Dodov describes himself as a professional ski and snowboard coach who worked as a heli-ski guide and operator in Europe. In an interview this week, the couple said they would sue Alaska Heliskiing for gross negligence.
“We realize that heli-snowboarding is an inherently dangerous sport. We have a life of outdoor experience… We have learned that Alaska Heliskiing was extremely negligent, ignoring normal safety protocol. We believe to attract kids with your advertisement and not do your job in a professional way has no place on the mountains,” they wrote.
Nickolay Dodov, 26, of Truckee, Calif ., and company guide Rob Liberman, 35, of Telluride, Colo ., died in a skier-triggered avalanche at “Swanny’s,” a mountain bowl on the west side of Takhin Ridge at about 10:30 a.m. on March 13.
The couple’s allegations, in several areas, contradict statements made to Alaska State Troopers shortly after the accident by Dwight Bailey, one of five skiers in the group on the fatal trip.
In an interview this week, the Dodovs said their information includes footage from a “Go Pro” film of the outing and testimony from another skier in the group, Casey Osteen, a friend of their son.
“There’s a lot of conflicting information,” Natalia Dodov said this week in a telephone interview.
The couple said the film shows Bailey expressing suspicion about snow conditions and eliciting this response from guide Liberman: “Don’t be concerned. The snow should be fine. It’s just an alpine bowl.”
Liberman also referred to Swanny’s as “the bunny hill,” according to the Dodovs.
According to the Dodovs, skiers in the group first were taken to a peak where Liberman tested the snow condition and found it unsafe. They proceeded to a second slope, where they made a run, but wet snow there was sticking to their snowboards.
Osteen told guide Liberman he didn’t want to spend any more money on “crappy snow,” but Liberman told the group that the company was already paying for the helicopter, the Dodovs said.
“My boy was getting close to Rob (Liberman). He’d support Rob in any way,” Alex Dodov said in an interview.
But the Dodovs also claim Liberman made jokes about his clients wearing safety gear, including breathing devices and inflatable cushions that keep skiers atop avalanches. Dodov was wearing both devices when he died. Liberman wasn’t wearing either one.
“He said, ‘Why are you wearing that stuff? I never wear that stuff.’ (Liberman) said, when his time comes, it’s okay with him,” said Alex Dodov.
The Dodovs said the company had a responsibility, as outlined in its permit, to study and understand snow conditions, to check the stability of slopes and choose appropriate routes.
Inconsistencies they cited include a company report that the avalanche danger rating on March 13 was “moderate,” while the HainesAvalancheInformationCenter reported it as “considerable.”
The “considerable” rating is the most hazardous and comes when avalanche danger is high, but not immediately obvious.
“Avalanche education courses teach that slopes with 25 to 40 degree pitch with a considerable avalanche rating in effect are the most prone to major catastrophic avalanches,” the couple wrote.
The company’s report that the snowpack on March 12 was “right side up” conflicts with the avalanche information center’s that the snow was “upside down,” including “widespread weak layers,” the Dodovs said.
Among the questions raised by the family are:
· Why the Haines Borough hasn’t requested a full investigation of the accident and the company’s accident report;
· Why two other skier groups – one on a nearby ridge waiting to ski the same slope and another in the air – weren’t used in the attempted rescue of the buried skiers, as suggested by company’s avalanche plan;
· Why Liberman didn’t check on the readiness of his clients’ safety gear;
· Why an ambulance instead of a helicopter was used to bring Dodov into town; and,
· Why no one from the Alaska Heliskiing contacted them until two days after the accident.
The Dodovs also said that emergency contact information and a pilot roster information on the company’s permit application is out of date. “The Haines Borough put its stamp on a permit with information that was outdated four or five years. It’s like a small-town patting (the compnay) on the back,” Alex Dodov said this week.
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Mayor, assembly not informed of request
By Tom Morphet
Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest on Wednesday cited a busy schedule for not informing Mayor Stephanie Scott or assembly members of a request for assembly action from the family of a dead heli-skier who claim a local guiding firm violated safety provisions of its borough-issued permit.
The borough received about two dozen pages of information from Alex and Natalia Dodov Aug. 24, claiming Alaska Heliskiing recklessly disregarded safety standards laid out in its permit, leading to their son’s death. Scott and assembly member Debra Schnabel learned of the claim Monday through information provided by the Chilkat Valley News.
“We were going to (tell Scott) in a meeting we kept trying to arrange. (Clerk) Julie (Cozzi) and I and the Mayor were going to meet. There were just interruptions,” Earnest said this week.
The family’s packet of information to the borough included a request that the assembly and other officials review Alaska Heliskiing’s permit in light of their allegations. Their request came on a borough form titled “Agenda Request for Assembly Action.”
Scott said she was “shocked” and “felt duped to an extent” that the matter was not brought to her attention, including when she was consulting with Earnest and clerk Cozzi early last week while preparing the agenda for the Sept. 11 assembly meeting.
“I have told them that it was impossible for me to do my job if I wasn’t forwarded requests for assembly action,” Scott said Tuesday.
Scott said she asked Earnest to provide a verbal report to the assembly on the matter for Tuesday’s meeting, but Earnest was absent due to illness and the family’s claim was not mentioned at the meeting.
At press time Wednesday, Scott was arranging for a letter to be sent to the Dodovs, explaining what actions the borough was taking.
Cozzi confirmed receipt of the Dodovs’ request on Aug. 24, three days after the assembly held a workshop on permitting changes for Alaska Heliskiing and two other companies, and five days before an Aug. 28 assembly meeting.
The assembly was scheduled to resume discussion of heli-skiing permit conditions at its Sept. 11 meeting.
Clerk Cozzi e-mailed the Dodovs that the agenda deadline for the Aug. 28 meeting was 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 20. “Therefore, since your submittal missed the deadline, this will definitely not be on this upcoming agenda. That agenda has been finalized and officially published.”
Cozzi informed the Dodovs that manager Mark Earnest was out ill and hadn’t seen the documents.
“I have begun processing your request, which will include a legal review, and I cannot yet give you an estimate of when you may expect a response from the borough. You will be contacted at some point, as soon as possible,” Cozzi wrote Aug. 24.
The Dodovs e-mailed the borough a personal letter the following day, Aug. 25, which Cozzi confirmed receiving Aug. 27. On Sept. 6, Natalia Dodov again e-mailed Cozzi: “Please let us know when to anticipate the assembly meeting date in which the AH permit renewal will be reviewed. We would need to make plans.”
On Sept. 6, Cozzi responded, “I will check with the manager and Mayor and get an update for you.”
Scott said this week that Earnest made only superficial mention of a correspondence from the Dodovs.
“(Assemblywoman) Debra (Schnabel) had heard the (Dodovs) were making inquiries and I suggested to Mark Earnest that we have an executive session to discuss the Williamson (drowning) lawsuit, the Kammerer complaint (against the police department) and Alaska Heliskiing. I was told there was nothing to discuss,” Scott said this week.
In an interview this week, Cozzi said she was serving as acting manager when the Dodovs’ request arrived and she forwarded it to Earnest and to borough attorney Brooks Chandler. She said she didn’t believe the request was an assembly matter, as the borough manager issues heli-ski permits.
“This is not under the purview of the assembly. It’s not an assembly thing. Just because someone wants something to go to the assembly doesn’t make it an assembly thing,” Cozzi said. “My job is to receive things and to disseminate them. I asked (Earnest) to disseminate this.”
Cozzi said she’d repeatedly asked Earnest about forwarding the information to Scott.
“I asked the manager. I said, ‘I need to tell the Mayor something.’ He told me to tell her that we’d received a communication from the family of the (Alaska Heliskiing) client and that at some point he’d be meeting with the Mayor so she could decide whether or not or when there was something for the assembly to do and it would go on the agenda… I still contend that the assembly has nothing to do with this right now,” Cozzi said.
Cozzi said she did mention to Scott that there had been correspondence from the family. “I told the Mayor we had received communication from the family and that the attorney advised that it was not under the assembly’s purview at this time, if ever.”
Cozzi said she forwarded the Dodov’s information to lawyer Chandler “because when I read through it, I was concerned… at least the implication was there that we had liability.”
The extent of borough work on the Dodov material was unclear this week. Cozzi characterized Chandler’s work on the matter as an “investigation.” Earnest said: “We were going to be looking at some aspects of (the Dodovs’ request) for an investigation.”
Earnest said he directed the attorney to review the family’s claims and Chandler has responded. Earnest, who was interviewed Wednesday while at home sick, said he has received a response from Chandler but couldn’t characterize it.
Some of the emails from the Haines Borough Officials and the Mayor of Haines;
|From:||Natalia Dodova (email@example.com)|
|Sent:||Thu 9/06/12 6:05 PM|
|To:||julie cozzi (firstname.lastname@example.org)|
Hi Julie Cozzi
Please let us know when to anticipate the assembly meeting date in which the AH permit renewal will be reviewed. We would need to make plans.
Natalia and Alex Dodov
julie cozzi (email@example.com)
I will check with the manager and mayor and get an update for you.
Julie Cozzi, MMC
P.O. Box 1209
“The most wasted day of all is that in which we have not laughed.”
mark earnest (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Natalia Dodova, Julie Cozzi, Stephanie Scott
Cc: Darsie Culbeck
I am very sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this. It is totally my fault, and I accept 100% responsibility for the delay. We will get back with you as soon as possible with whatever information we can provide to you.
stephanie scott (email@example.com)
To: Natalia Dodova
Cc: Julie Cozzi, Mark Earnest
Please believe me when I say that you have not been forgotten! As of this time, we have nothing to report. Our procedures require heliski operators to apply annually for a permit. Alaska Heliski has not applied. Your request to have the permit revoked is still before the Manager and will be considered when and if the operator applies for a permit.
I can imagine that this situation is not very satisfying because at this time there is simply no guarantee that the Manager will take the action you desire. Many factors will enter into the decision, including information from the investigation by the Alaska State Troopers and the findings of our own internal examination. To my knowledge, neither of these processes have been concluded.
Perhaps, at this time, I could inquire as to additional actions that you may have taken?
Please don’t hesitate to contact me either by email or by phone.
Mayor, Haines Borough
The police and Haines Borough are under the authority of the Mayor’s office. It is disturbing that the Mayor wasn’t aware of our complaint.
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Mayor aims to improve communication
The Mayor sets meeting agendas, but neither she nor assembly members were notified of an August complaint and request for assembly action from the family of heli-skier killed during a tour here in March.
The complaint instead went to the borough attorney.
Haines resident response to Haines Borough covering up the deadly accident
Time to restart search for next manager
The borough assembly should restart the search for a new manager. Our current one is not doing the job that he is getting paid for. Unfortunately the assembly made the decision to retain him after he was out the door. The public’s best interest is not being served.
Now the assembly is having to deal with the repercussions of being kept in the dark on legal issues and shoddy enforcement of code and ordinances. The frequent answers we hear are, “I’m working on it” and “That’s not public information.”
We elected our current Mayor on a platform of open government and transparency. Perhaps it is time to return to a strong Mayor form of government. At least then we have a locally elected official to hold accountable. The revolving door of part- time managers is not working for our community.
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.
A Full Copy of;
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.
Not being able to get any accident reports from either Alaska Helisking or Trooper Bentz, we decided to get legal help.
The day before we went to San Francisco to meet with the lawyers, we received a phone call from Haines. It was Donna Cottati. She said they were able to collect money from Haines residents for us to go there. Alex explained to Donna that after learning disturbing information about the avalanche, not getting any accident report from Haines, and knowing from the trauma center doctor that Nick died in Alaska, we started to believe that Dr Nobel, from Haines Clinic, was covering up for Alaska Heliskiing, and there was possible malpractice. Alex told Donna that we were going to meet with lawyers to find a legal way to request a report. Donna was surprised and sounded upset with our decision, asking “Do you have money for lawyers?”
The same day Alex also talked to Brandon Corbett. In the conversation, Brandon said that he would give us a hard disk with footage from the group with Rob Liberman, taken minutes before the avalanche. He also said that he had erased the search and rescue footage and kept only 36 still images. The next day, while we were meeting with the lawyer, Kalei received on her phone an accident report from Alaska Helisking. A thought came to our minds: who, of the two we spoke with the day before on the phone, might inform Alaska Helisking that we were going to meet lawyers?
Avalanche danger level in the accident report was downgraded to “Moderate”, compared to Eric Steven’s information from Haines Avalanche Information Center of “Considerable”.
There was controversial information between the eyewitness accounts and the Alaska Heliskiing statements.
At this time, Alaska Heliskiing report wasn’t filed with the National Avalanche Center in Colorado. Part of the report was filed with Colorado more than seven months later, on November 27, 2012. In respond to the false report we published a comment in Chilkat Valley News.
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
AVALANCHE REPORT INCOMPLETE, FALSE
By Alex and Natalia Dodov
On November 27th, seven months after the avalanche accident that killed two people, ColoradoAvalancheCenter received an accident report from Alaska Heli Skiing Company. The author of this report is an employee of Alaska Heli Skiing Company and was also on site as a rescue member.
The report is hasty, uncompleted with false information.
The report didn’t have any information of the snow conditions on March 13th. After new snowfall accumulations of approximately 5ft with additional wind deposits, the avalanche warning coming from HainesAvalancheInformationCenter was posted as “Considerable”. The websites forecast/conditions/rating describes an upside down snowpack with 3 distinct week layers.
In a private conversation Alaska HeliSkiing Company snow forecaster Tim Thomas told our friend and Haines Borough member Rob Goldbeg that Alaska Heliskiing was aware of the dangerous condition (unstable snow,growing surface hoar layer and wind deposit snow) on the day of March 13th.
Why the report didn’t have any detailed information about the safety protocols & precautions of the day such as the snow stability check. If the report was based on the eyewitnesses statements Alaska Heli Skiing Company would know and include in their report that a snow pit was dig by Rob Liberman on the previous run before the avalanche. The snow pit showed an unstable snow condition. The guide didn’t take the group to ski this run but instead of following his safety protocols to call the helicopter to pick up the group, he took the group to an alternative run without checking the snow. Taking the group to the second run, the guide did not check the snow there either, even though the clients expressed concern. He assured them “Don’t be concerned, it is just an alpine bowl” ……
Why was the crown inspection four days after the avalanche?
What the report was based on?
Alaska Heli Skiing Company have in their accident report that the third skier took a heavy fall and impacted the snow, but did not trigger the avalanche. The truth is, according to the eyewitnesses that the third skier was Casey Osteen. Casey didn’t fall on his run, it was the second skier Ryan Kirkpatrick. He was caught by surprise by a rock outcrop and roll, flipping forward, landing on his board, without impact the snow. This happened at the end of his run, at the bottom of the gully. Alaska Heli Skiing Company’s report states that Nick Dodov CHOOSE to go much farther to the right and this is where he triggered the avalanche. The truth is according to the eyewitnesses that they all heard on their radios Rob Liberman guiding Nick Dodov ; “Go to the right, there is a better powder snow there.”
Why Alaska Heli Skiing Company doesn’t want to reveal the actual time line from the moment the victims were buried under the snow until the victim bodies were excavated? According to the eyewitnesses statements the first guide was dropped on the avalanche debris at least thirty minutes after the avalanche broke.
Why doesn’t the report include clients Ryan Kirkpatrick, Dwight Bailey and Brandon Corbett were involved in the search and rescue? If the company questioned them, according to their statements they would know that only two guides helped, it wasn’t until late in the search and rescue when the place was swamped by the other guides, too little too late. Why Alaska Heli Skiing Company doesn’t have the names and the level of emergency wilderness first AID, CPR qualification of the guides involved in the search and rescue.
After the accident Rob Liberman was transported straight down to Haines Medical Clinic, why Nick Dodov was transported to the base of the AH to wait for a paramedic car? Why doesn’t the report say who made these decisions?
Why Alaska Heli Skiing Company didn’t have in their accident report the findings of Rob Liberman’s toxicology report? The report shows THC marihuana three times higher than background levels.
What was the Alaska Heli Skiing Company drug policy?
The Alaska Heli Ski Company published fraudulent information on their web site stating that they are members of fictitious heli ski association that monitors very closely their safety programs and all of the company’s guides meet the requirements of this non existing heli ski association.
If Alaska Heli Skiing Company crafted false information on their web site to attract clients, we are not surprised that their accident report has been fabricated with false information too,
When we got back from San Francisco, we received a letter from Donna Cottati saying; “It matters not to me if they shut down this company. But please don’t allow the lawyers to file charges on our emergency services or the clinic.” We also received an email from Vicki Gardner, the owner of Alaska Helisking;
Dear Alex and Natalia, Let me begin by offering my blessings. Please know that you are in my prayers daily. Sometimes words do not come easy, especially ones that may bring pain to others who receive them. And in these times, such words must come directly from the heart. I have had many hours of deep thought over the incident and the deaths of Nick and Rob. I would like to introduce to you who I am and offer my help with any questions or thoughts that you may have. I hope it is not overdue, but I felt that you would contact us when you were ready and that it may take a generous amount of time for that to happen. When Kalei contacted me, I directed her to Orion because he had the logistics of the slide that I did not have with me at the time. But since then, I have felt that I needed to share with you my thoughts and feelings. I am a mother of four children, each of who enjoy their natural surroundings and extreme sports. My oldest, Nicholai, is a raft guide in Haines on the Chilkat River which is a very swift moving body of water of extremely cold temperatures. They all enjoy surfing, sailing, paragliding and they all are heliskiers. I cannot imagine the devastation that a loss of my child would bring to me and I have tried to put myself in your place but I believe that no one could imagine that pain until it is real. My Grandmother lost her son at an early age and she said to me that it was the hardest pain to bear for any person. I have had many recent feelings of holding my children back from their dreams in light of Nick and Rob’s death this year. But my daughter, who is 8, just today climbed back on to her horse through tears, the same horse who broke her foot by stepping on it a year ago. She cried in fear as she made the jump up, nothing was going to stop her from doing something that she loves so dearly. This is how I feel about my guides in Alaska and the customers this business brings to us. My reason for being involved in this livelihood is not for economic reasons, fame or even because I love the sport so much. It is because of the people that come to us with such excitement for life. They are living their dreams and have such wonderful spirits that I feel blessed to just be a part of it all. I was at base the morning of the avalanche. I sat by Nick while medical attention was being rendered and I prayed. I gave my heart to him, asking him to stay with us and continue to live life with us. But for the first time in my life, nature took him, therefore taking something from me that I wanted very badly. I wanted him to live, to share the ski stories again with us and to continue to follow the dreams that made him so happy. But I was called to the clinic to identify Rob and I sat with Nick’s group when the doctor gave us the news of his condition. It was one of the saddest days of my life. I asked myself if I wanted to be a part of something so risky and if I wanted my children to be a part of it. And after three days, I looked in to the creamy white mountains of Haines and knew that I could not deny anyone their dreams of being there in the very heart of those mountains, doing what they love to do. I also spoke to Donna Cattoti and Rob Goldberg in great length a few days after the incident and they enlightened me with your family history. I know that it was only a matter of time before I needed to contact you myself. Please do not feel pressured to respond but know that I am here if at any time you would like to talk. I would love to meet you and could travel to California whenever the time is right. Also, please know that you are more than welcome to visit me at any time. During the summer months, I live in Pemberton, BC farming (my girls ski here until the end of May). And Alaska is always home and open to you. Peace be with you and yours. My love, thoughts and sincere heartfelt.
Vicki Gardner Alaska Heliskiing 1 877 SKI HAINES (907) 303-0040 cell
After our lawyer called the Haines Police Dept, he received Trooper Bentz’s incident report.
Again there was false and controversial information between the eyewitness accounts and Trooper Bentz’s statements.
The time line from the medical clinic in Trooper Bentz’s report was incomplete, and there was no real report from the clinic from the time Nick arrived there to the time he was flown to Seattle. A very important part of the report, that Trooper Bentz didn’t send to the lawyer, was Rob Liberman’s toxicology report.
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Autopsy finds THC in guide’s blood
A toxicology report on a heli-ski guide involved in a fatal avalanche March 13 found marijuana-based THC in his blood at higher than background levels.
Alaska Heliskiing guide Robert Liberman, 35, and client Nickolay Dodov, 26, were killed in the avalanche that occurred during a commercial trip by Alaska Heliskiing. Four other clients were in the group during the morning outing on a peak near the TsirkuRiver. Recent autopsies of the men showed both died of asphyxiation.
Liberman’s toxicology report, requested by the State of Alaska and conducted by NMS Labs of Willow Grove, Pa., found THC in Liberman’s blood at 2.8 nanograms per milliliter. According to the lab, levels of THC run between 50 and 270 ng/mL after smoking a joint, and drop to less than five nanograms after two hours.
The reporting limit for THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is one nanogram per milliliter, according to the report.
Liberman’s toxicology report also found “Carboxy THC,” a metabolized form of THC, in concentrations of 16 nanograms per milliliter, where the reporting limit was five nanograms. Levels of the metabolized compound range from 10 to 101 ng/mL, 32 to 240 minutes after smoking marijuana, according to the report.
Officials with NMS Labs and the state coroner’s office each declined comment on the report.
It’s difficult to say whether the amounts of THC cited in the report would have an effect on a person, said one state official. “Whether someone would have a response to that level (cited in the report) is up to the individual,” said Dave Verbrugge, a chemist who studies analytical toxicology at the state’s public health lab.
“There’s going to be some individual variability, including factors like physiological response,” Verbrugge said.
No toxicology report was requested in Dodov’s autopsy, which was conducted by the KingCounty coroner’s office in Washington state. Dodov was flown to Seattle immediately after the avalanche, where he was pronounced dead.
Alaska Heliskiing had no comment on the matter this week.
Later in the summer, while investigating, we found out Rob Liberman’s nick’s names were “Go Red”, “Outlaw” and he was known by his Telluride friends as “Rob The Stoner”. Why a great skier like Rob would need to get stoned? Was he really need to get stoned before guiding clients, or was it the bad influence of Alaska Helisking owners? We learned through our investigation that Alaska Heliskiing owner, Sean Brownell, has a history of smoking marijuana while heliskiing with clients. We learned that Sean Dog was kicked out of Skagway, where he was heli guiding with Out of Bounds Heliskiing company for pot smoking. We have been told that after this he moved to Haines and, before he established Alaska Heliskiing, he was dealing drugs and smuggling heavy drugs over the border.