ALASKA LABOR STANDARDS AND SAFETY DIVISION NOTICE; Request for Stakeholder Input – Heli-skiing Industry

 

LABOR STANDARDS AND SAFETY DIVISION

Occupational Safety and Health

3301 Eagle Street, Suite 305

Anchorage, Alaska 99503-4149

Main: 907.269.4940

Toll free: 800.770.4940

Fax: 907.269.4950/269.3723

NOTICE

Request for Stakeholder Input – Heli-skiing Industry

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Occupational Safety and Health Section (AKOSH) has scheduled an informal stakeholder meeting to solicit comments on how to prevent accidents, injuries and illnesses during heli-skiing operations.

The meeting will focus on existing AKOSH regulations applicable to heli-skiing operations, industry recognized standards and best practices, and a discussion about whether additional safety regulations related to the permitting process would reduce injuries.

AKOSH plans to use the information gathered at this meeting to explore development of new or revised policies, procedures, or guidelines for heli-skiing operations.

The meeting will be Wednesday, May 21, 2014 from 1-3 p.m. at:

Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development

3301 Eagle Street, Conference Room 104

To comment by phone, call 907-269-4955 no later than May 20 to add your name to the roster for planning purposes.

On May 21, commenters should call 800-315-6338 and enter the code 6002#. The phone line will be active from 1-3 p.m.

Speaker order will alternate between those in person and calling in. Depending on how many wish to provide input, verbal comments may be limited; written comments are highly encouraged.

To comment in writing:

Email

anchorage.lss-osh@alaska.gov (Use subject line: Heli-skiing Krystyna Markiewicz)

Mail

Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development

Occupational Safety and Health Section

Attn: Krystyna Markiewicz

3301 Eagle Street, Suite 305

Anchorage, AK 99503

Fax

907-269-4950 – Attn: Krystyna Markiewicz

For More Information

Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development

Division of Labor Standards and Safety/Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Section

907-465-4855 (Juneau)

907-269-4955 (Anchorage)

click on the link to see the actual AKOSH notice

Heli-skiing Industry meeting

 

“Heli-skiing in the United States – Guidelines vs. Standards”

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS

April 10, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 14

Heli-skiing in the United States – Guidelines vs. Standards 

by Natalia and Alex Dodov

 

The recent March 15th Haines avalanche death is the fourth fatality in conditions rated “Considerable Danger.” It shows an obvious pattern of profits over safety: In 2012, Nickolay Dodov and guide Rob Liberman were killed in a massive avalanche after five feet of new snow, growing  surface hoar, an overnight strong wind storm that overloaded the mountain bowls and the gullies with wind deposit snow. In 2013, guide Christian Cabanilla was killed after an overloaded cornice collapsed that set off an avalanche. In 2014, guide Aaron Karitis was killed in an avalanche after three weeks of unusually dangerous conditions.

Unregulated heli-skiing industry in the United States, ruled by its own insurance, left the door open for negligence. US Heli-Ski Association, instead of setting mandatory safety standards and protocols, has recommended safety guidelines based on self imposed safety standards and self certified heli guides. US Heli-Ski Association mission is; “To ensure and protect the future of helicopter skiing in the US”

Canada is the worldwide leader in heliskiing industry. They have been highly regulated by the government since the early 1970’s.

If the multimillion dollar heliskiing industry in the US was serious about regulating their safety standards, they would have adopted the US Army’s Tenth Mountain Division strict safety standards years ago.

Two years ago, after our son was killed in an avalanche in Haines, we requested from the US Heliskiing Association to see their strict safety standards, as this was stated on their website. Their response was a letter to the senators stating that they did not want to be regulated, and refused farther discussion of the matter.

“Fatal accidents like the one last spring (2012) only increase the volume of that clamor. But people need to remember, Points North owner Kevin Quinn said, heli-skiing is an inherently risky activity. And not even a litany of rules and regulations can guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Being a part of heliski US wouldn’t have saved those people,” Quinn said. “Not even kind of.”

This is the extend that the heliskiing industry in the US is willing to go to; casual self regulation instead of mandatory safety standards.

Policies

Policies consist of high level mandatory statements

Standards

Standards consist of specific low level specific mandatory controls

Guidelines

Guidelines consist of recommended, non-mandatory controls

Every heli skiing operator in the US, member or non- member of the US Heli-Ski Association, have stated on their websites and operating plans that they have been operating under strict safety standards. This information should be considered fraudulent. Heliskiing in the United States has never been regulated. Therefore no state or federal authority has set safety standards for this industry.

It appears that the Heliskiing industry insurance company supported by law enforcement, labor safety, land managements, local authorities, avalanche forecasters, main stream media were able to suppress and cover up information and details of the events related to the deadly incidents.

We are concerned that desperately needed changes will not happen in the foreseeable future. This leaves us with a dangerous environment for the clients and the guides in the US heliskiing industry.

We have started Nickolay Dodov Foundation for snow sports safety. The foundation’s mission is; To promote snow sports safety and awareness through educational programs and events. To encourage children and enthusiasts of all ages to safely explore the beauty of the mountains and to inspire a healthy and positive lifestyle in the light of Nickolay Dodov.

Foe events and updates you can visit Nickolay Dodov Foundation website. www.nickolaydodovfoundation.com

For more details and information you can visit our blog alexnatalianickolaydodov at WordPress

alexnatalianickdodovdotcom.wordpress.com

To see the full article in Chilkat Valley News click on the link below

 Heli-skiing in United States Guidelines vs. Standards

Chilkat Valley News – Editorial by Tom Morphet; Four heli-skiing deaths in Haines since 2012 are an unacceptable toll.

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS

Volume XLIV Number 11 Thursday, March 20, 2014

Editorial

by Tom Morphet

Four heli-skiing deaths in Haines since 2012 are an unacceptable toll.

They’re also a black eye for our town, an unnecessary public expense

and a hindrance to the efforts of well-meaning people to make a home

for the industry here.

To protect the lives of guides and clients, government must step in

and establish reasonable safety regulations, just as it does in other

hazardous industries such as construction, mining, logging and

commercial fishing.

Here’s a proposed regulation: On commercial trips, require guides

or others leading groups to wear deployable air bags. Used properly,

the bags have proved to be highly effective at keeping skiers atop snow

during avalanches.

You can’t go near the Port Chilkoot Dock these days if you’re not

wearing a hardhat. Down at the harbor, commercial gillnetters are

required to carry a survival suit for every deckhand. But basic, lifesaving

safety gear is not required in the heli-ski industry, where workers

and clients routinely encounter risk of injury or death from avalanches.

Three of the four heli-skiers who died in Haines were guides.

The State of Alaska takes steps to protect other workers in avalanche

zones. Ten years ago, state prosecutors convicted Whitewater

Engineering of Bellingham, Wash. of criminally negligent homicide

after one of the company’s workers operating a backhoe was killed in

a 1999 avalanche near Cordova.

In that case, the state’s occupational safety office alleged that basic,

required safety procedures were not followed and the company exhibited

gross negligence after being warned of high avalanche danger. A

judge agreed and Whitewater was fined $150,000, and ordered to pay

restitution to the dead man’s family.

Is the state concerned about avalanche risk for some workers, but

not others?

Local heli-ski companies have previously made statements about

self-imposed safety improvements, but Saturday’s death testifies that

changes aren’t coming fast enough. For weeks, operators have been

aware of an elevated avalanche hazard created by this year’s uncommon

snow conditions.

In addition to deaths since 2012, there also have been heli-ski

injuries and close calls involving survival after live burials. Harrowing

footage of one such burial here was circulating on the Internet this

Self-policing by this industry does not appear to be a credible or

timely route to minimizing risk. The government has the authority to

improve safety now and the power to make those improvements stick.

If state or federal land managers aren’t interested in saving lives,

the Haines Borough could require use of air bags as part of its heli-ski

tour permit process.

For commercial guides going ahead of clients down mountains,

donning an air bag should be as automatic as strapping on a seat belt

before driving a car.

— Tom Morphet

THE ALASKAN WAY – End up with Tragic Incident that Killed a Client and a Guide

Last season some of the top guides of  Alaska Heliskiing, LLC left for good.   The co-owners of Alaska Heliskiing LLC, Vicki Gardner and  Sean Brownell, left Haines, Alaska. Now, they live in Canada. Vicki Gardner lives near Vancouver, BC. Sean Brownell lives in Carcross, Yukon. We have been told that on the fateful day of March 13/2012, the day when both a client and their guide were killed, it was just an accident. Why then did Vicki Gardner and Sean Brownell have to leave the country? What was their concern if this incident was only an accident?

 The Alaska Heliskiing website is still open for business both to take clients out heli-skiing and to educate future guides. On what standards and regulations  this company is allowed to certified heli-ski guides? Their top guides now are Tim Thomas and Gabe Gioffre.

After the deadly incident mentioned above, Tim Thomas has shared that the company was aware of the dangerous conditions the day of the accident. Gabe Gioffre was the guide in the helicopter at the scene of the avalanche. He didn’t start search and rescue until 35 minutes after the avalanche came to rest.

Alaska Heliskiing ignored the dangerous conditions (which included growing surface hoar, an overnight strong wind storm that overloaded the mountain bowls and the gullies with wind deposit snow, shooting cracks in the snow, snow stability check that showed dangerous snow conditions and Rob Liberman was guiding under influence of THC marijuana) that led to the death of a client, our son Nickolay Dodov, and the AH guide, Rob Liberman.

Who made the call to take three groups of clients to Alpine Bowl with rolling hills and multiple gullies with steepness of 25-40 degrees in such a dangerous conditions?  Alaska Heliskiing was taking all the clients to ski the same hill. It was inevitable that someone would get in trouble that day.

http://vimeo.com/skithehimalayas/the…

The Alaskan Way The Alaskan Way http://vimeo.com/skithehimalayas/the… 

“SEABA agrees to pay $21K to BLM” by Tom Morphet

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS

SEABA agrees to pay $21K to BLM

by Tom Morphet

January 9, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 1  | View PDF

A Haines helicopter skiing company has agreed to pay more than $21,000 in fines and fees for flying on federal lands closed to the activity 54 times during 78 days of operation during the past two years.

Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures signed a plea agreement containing the allegations, which was filed recently in federal district court in Anchorage. The case stems from a federal investigation of the company triggered by the heli-skiing death of Christian Cabanilla March 3.

The company also agreed to a two-year probationary period. A federal court judge must still approve the plea deal.

“This investigation revealed that despite knowing that SEABA was not permitted for helicopter skiing on BLM-managed lands in this area, SEABA operated commercially on BLM-managed land on approximately 54 dates in 2012 and 2013 out of 78 total days of heli-ski operations in these two seasons,” the plea agreement says.

In a statement from attorney Tracey Knutson this week, SEABA described the encroachments as “minor, infrequent and inconsequential.”

“(A recent news article) intimating that 54 incursions over a 78-day period had occurred was misleading,” Knutson said. “In reality, a similar number of client ski day land boundary infractions occurred over a couple year period so that transit into federal lands was infrequent. The boundary intrusion most often was only for helicopter access with the actual ski runs occurring on state land,” Knutson said.

Cabanilla and four others were skiing on federal lands closed to commercial heli-skiing when the fatal accident occurred. Two of the other skiers were seriously injured. The trip in the Kicking Horse drainage was a non-commercial outing led by SEABA guides.

The accident occurred on a ski-run on BLM-managed land that the company had named for one of its frequent customers. It had been included on a map SEABA had submitted for a 2011 BLM permit that was not approved.

SEABA officials have previously complained that the BLM is holding up the company’s use of the land.

According to the plea agreement, the company had a permit for operating on BLM land from 2002 through 2006, then allowed the permit to expire. Following expiration of the permit, BLM closed the land to heli-skiing “pending an environmental study to determine the impact of increasing the amount of permitted heli-ski operations. SEABA applied for a new permit for these closed area in 2011. SEABA was informed of the closure and did not obtain a permit.”

According to the plea agreement, after the fatality the BLM initiated an investigation that involved interviews with SEABA employees, a review of the company’s log, maps and GPS flight data collected in accordance with its Haines Borough permit.

“Based on a percentage of SEABA’s gross revenue and the percentage of time SEABA operated commercially on BLM lands in 2012 and 2013, SEABA owes a minimum of $11,556 in user fees to BLM,” according to the plea agreement. Under the agreement, SEABA also agrees to pay a $10,000 fine and would be placed on two years’ probation during which it would be required to submit GPS data to the agency to prove compliance.

The plea agreement says SEABA could have been fined up to $200,000, with five years’ probation.

Former Haines Borough Assembly member Norm Smith, an industry critic, said this week that the borough should revoke SEABA’s permit. “Fifty-four times is not just an out of bounds issue. Shades of Dave Button,” he said.

Assembly member Jerry Lapp said he’d oppose such an idea. “I wish (SEABA) would watch themselves a little more closely, but I blame it on the BLM. They’ve taken way too long to do whatever they say they’re doing (in closed areas). Why are they closed? Why shouldn’t they be open to the public? If I had my way, it would all be open to heli-skiing except the critical habitat area for (mountain) goats.”

Lynn Canal Conservation president Eric Holle said the federal investigation “verifies what we’ve been saying for years. SEABA doesn’t pay attention to the regs. They operate as though they are above the law.”

“The significance for the borough, I would hope, is that they need to step up their monitoring for compliance. It was like pulling teeth to get Mark Earnest to do spot checks on these guys. Last year he only did two spot checks on SEABA and two on Alaska Heliskiing. Undoubted there were violations on state land (during the same time). The borough is in charge of that. They should look,” Holle said.

Interim borough manager Julie Cozzi said this week she’d include information about the plea agreement in information to assembly members, but said she was not planning at this time to make recommendations concerning borough management of the industry

Dodovs Letter to U.S. Senators; US Heliskiing Association Letter to U.S. Senators; On March 3th, 2013 another heli ski guide was killed, two clients injured during commercial heli skiing in Haines, Alaska; New York Times Article “Extreme Grief”; Dodovs Petition to the Department of Natural Resources, Alaska

After Haines Borough avoided our allegations, State Authority and US Heliskiing Association didn’t wanted to get involved, we decided to write a letter to higher authorities.

DODOVS LETTER TO U.S. SENATORS

January 22, 2013 Alaska;

US Senator Mark Begich, US Senator Lisa Murkovski, California; US Senator Barbara Boxer US Senator Diane Feinstein US Senator Tom Berryhill

Dear Senator,

Our names are Alex and Natalia Dodov. We are from Bear Valley, California. Our son, Nickolay Dodov, was killed, along with guide Rob Liberman, in an avalanche on March 13, 2012 while snowboarding near Haines,   Alaska. He was a boarding client of the commercial guiding service Alaska Heliskiing LLC. (AH)

We are asking for your assistance and intervention. We know that our son Nick’s death could have been prevented had there been stricter guidelines imposed. We have spent endless hours investigating the circumstances of our son’s death: we have dealt with the city government, the state government and the Heli Ski US Association to no avail. So far we have had no indication of further investigation into the death of our son considering the obvious gross negligence of Alaska Heliskiing (AH) nor an interest on the regulatory agencies part to improve policy and procedures that would protect the safety of future heli-ski clients and Heli-guides alike.

We are appealing to you.

In light of all that we have discovered, we request that Alaska Heliskiing be investigated and   held accountable for the death of Nickolay Dodov. We request that an independent and qualified party be brought into this investigation. We request that, due to an obvious conflict of interest, the permit issuing authority be taken from Haines Borough and assigned to an appropriate governing agency. We request improved safety infrastructure: standardize heli-skiing regulations in the USA, require drug screening policy for heli ski companies in the USA, require all the guides and clients of the USA heli companies to wear the latest safety equipment, establish avalanche research and education center in Haines, establish search and rescue in Haines, and upgrade Haines medical facility with advanced life support equipment.

The following 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 Heliskiing 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). We have whiteness’ statement that 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 marihuana.

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.

AH 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 Trauma Center in Seattle his actual death occurred in Alaska. Nickolay was transported out of the state of Alaska, to prevent a state investigation

The Medical Report from Haines Medical Clinic, from the time of accident to his arrival to the hospital in Seattle, is unaccounted for and it was not included in Trooper Bentz’s incident report.

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 Nickolay Dodov.

AH threatened the web site of Haines Avalanche Information Center. The avalanche reports from February 20 to March 14 were removed from its website. AH had the avalanche survivors sign papers that they would not discuss events of that day, while providing hamburgers. AH induced the filming crew that was filming at the time to cooperate for the “positive outcome of this accident” by “sticking to the original story line and NOT using anything related to this incident”, because “I want to stay in business so that is what is on the line for all of us”. The filming crew was warned if they don’t cooperate they have to deal with AH lawyer, “who is like a bulldog”.

Guide Rob Liberman’s autopsy report revealed high levels of marijuana type THC in his system / 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.  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. In an accidental death involving the presence of THC, city and state authorities should have conducted an investigation. Unfortunately this did not happen.

Rob Liberman was a paid employee of AH. If the company’s employee is criminally negligent, then the company should be held liable for their employee’s actions. Instead of an investigation, Alaska State Trooper Bentz concluded the incident “non-criminal”. State Trooper Bentz had the results of Liberman’s toxicology report, yet he withheld it from us and our lawyer. Trooper Bentz didn’t request all employees involved in the accident/rescue of AH Company be tested for THC and other illegal substances. Not investigating and letting AH continue operating until the end of season 2012 Trooper Bentz put other lives at risk. According to eyewitnesses’ statements after two deaths AH continued to operate with reckless behavior. At least one time AH was rotating seven client groups with one helicopter.

We have filed a complaint with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation against state Trooper Bentz regarding the handling of the incident report with controversial and false information. We requested that Alaska State Troopers to reopen the case. We were told by Lt Rodney Dial that they would not reopen an investigation into the heli-ski accident that killed two people.

AH did not file a detailed report of Rob Liberman’s death to the Workman’s Compensation Board. Instead, a $750 fine was paid by AH to the Board. By permit, AH is required to submit a detailed accident report to Haines Borough within 72 hours of the incident. Such a report was not submitted. 7 ½ months later AH filed a false accident report with the National Avalanche Center in Colorado.

AH 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, AH is criminally trespassing on State Land. The incident happened on State Land managed by DNR.  AH not having a DNR permit has not been inspected and regulated for storing diesel, spill plan and prevention methods. Therefore, AH stored diesel fuel too close to the river.

AH 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.

AH’s operation permit (issued by Haines Borough) was 5 years outdated. AH’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.

Based on film footage the owner of AH resisted giving GPS data requested by Haines Borough, due to out of bounds use. Instead of holding AH accountable for their criminal trespassing, the Haines Borough supports AH and lets them continue with their operation. According to the code of Haines Borough, AK; the Police Chief, Tourism Director and Harbor Master must review all commercial tour permit applications, including heli-skiing permits.

AH misrepresented its safety standards and activities, inducing deceased to use its services. AH 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.

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.

We have eyewitness statement of criminal activity by AH: illegal dumping of fuel/jet waste by AH; hiring of illegal workers by AH; Federal Aviation Association  infractions by AH. None of these is relevant to our case, yet shows the negligence of AH company. We submitted details from the accident to the Heli Ski National Association for review and judgment.

We requested the current operating protocols (safety, search & rescue standards) that are required for all the US heli ski companies. We could not locate any standards on the HSUS website. We also asked where HSUS stands regarding drug usage of guides. HSUS declined to participate.

Thank you for your time and consideration

Alex and Natalia Dodov  

—————————————————————————————————————

—————————————————————————————————————

—————————————————————————————————————

RESPONSE FROM U.S. SENATOR BARBARA BOXER

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dodov:

Thank you for your recent request for assistance with a federal agency. Please be assured that your matter will receive serious attention, and that I will make every effort, consistent with federal law and ethics standards, to assist you. However, I will need to have your written consent on file before I can open a formal inquiry into your case. In most cases, such consent is required by federal law or regulation. Therefore, please send your written and signed request for assistance to: U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer 70 Washington Street, Suite 203 Oakland, CA94607 In your statement, please include your name, your address, your phone number, any relevant identification numbers (such as your Social Security or alien registration number), a brief description of your case, and your signature. In case of emergency please call my Oakland office at (510) 286-8537, and a member of my staff will assist you. Once again, thank you for writing.

Sincerely, Barbara Boxer United States Senator

——————————————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————————————–

RESPONSE FROM U.S. SENATOR DIANE FEINSTEIN’S OFFICE

2/21/13

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dodov,

My name is James Peterson, Senator Feinstein’s legislative assistant for environment and public lands issues. I wanted to follow-up on Laura’s email from last week about the terrible loss of your son. We are eager to explore how we might be of some assistance to you and would like to learn more about the accident. Can you provide us with a phone number and a good time to contact you so that we can discuss this? Again, please accept our deepest regrets for your loss.

Sincerely, James Peterson ______________________________________________________________________________ James Peterson Legislative Assistant U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein 331 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C.20510 Tel (202) 224-3841

RESPONSE FROM U.S.SENATOR MARK BEGICH’S OFFICE

January 30, 2013

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dodov: Thank you for contacting Senator Mark Begich’s Office regarding Alaska Heliskiing, LLC, and the tragedy of your son’s death in Haines, AK. Sen. Begich sends his deepest regrets and has asked that I respond to you on his behalf. We regret to hear your son’s death could have been prevented and was not. We understand your desire to see a thorough investigation of this issue. We encourage you, if you have not already, to seek legal council if you are considering holding the involved company accountable. Unfortunately, our office is prohibited by law from intervening in legal matters and cannot interfere with an investigation. We believe legal council is best suited to advising you during this time. We regret we cannot be of more assistance in this matter.

Sincerely, Greer Gehler Office of U.S. Senator Mark Begich

———————————————————————————————-

———————————————————————————————–

———————————————————————————————-

THE US HELISKIING ASSOSIATION LETTER TO U.S. SENATORS

HELISKIING US ASSOSIATION , January 27, 2012

Alex & Natalia Dodov, Bear Valley, CA

Re: Your letter to Congressman Young, Senators Murkowski & Begich, et. al.

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Dodov:

I write in response to your recent letter to Congressman Young, Senators Murkowski and Begich and to others. On behalf of Heli-Ski U.S. Association, Inc. (HSUS) and its member firms, I again offer my deepest condolences for the loss of your son, Nickolay. I am certain that your sense of loss is profound and your desire for answers is acute. While those feelings are understandable, I respectfully request that you be more circumspect in your communications, which unfairly paint our entire industry as lacking in competence, professionalism and integrity. I assure you, that is not the case. Because we strongly disagree, it is necessary that I address several of the allegations in your letter:

Our decision not to investigate. You note that we have not undertaken an investigation of the accident that took the life of your son, but not that we declined to do so and explained why. We are a non-profit trade association representing approximately half of the heli-ski operators in the United States. Our mission is to promote helicopter skiing and we do this, in large part, by promoting higher operational and safety standards.

We are a voluntary organization – no one is required to join and Alaska Heliskiing (AH) was not a member. The operating guidelines we promote for our members were therefore inapplicable to AH and it would be manifestly unfair to apply those standards after the fact. Further, our organization has not conducted investigations in the past and has no procedures in place to assure that work would be carried out competently and fairly. Moreover, we have no legal standing to conduct an investigation – no authority to require witnesses to speak with us and no right of access to the accident site or records.

Operating protocols. At the close of your letter, you note that you were unable to obtain a copy of our operating protocols and that you could not locate them on our website, suggesting that they do not exist. Given AH’s references to the apparently non-existent Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, your cynicism is understandable, but incorrect. Our Heli-Skiing Safety & Operating Procedures (HSOP) guidelines are extensive and substantive. More important, the operations of our member firms are periodically audited for compliance and applicant firms must pass a thorough audit before they can become members. We do not publish or otherwise release the HSOP guidelines because, in our view, the impact of doing so would be precisely the opposite of our goal in creating them. Because of its level of detail, the HSOP could be used by persons wishing to enter the field to create a credible operating and safety plan, notwithstanding a lack of experience and technical resources. We would, in essence, be facilitating the creation of unqualified operations. We make the HSOP available to firms that have been in the field for at least two full years, provided they sign an agreement to be audited and pay a modest fee and the audit expenses. We believe that this is the best way for our organization to promote safety in the industry.

Regulation of heli-skiing. I cannot agree with your call for regulation of the helicopter skiing industry. First, I note that many recreational activities involve risk and are not regulated by government agencies, despite accidents that sometimes result in loss of life. For example, horseback riding, mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, scuba diving and parasailing all include significant risks, but none is regulated by government. Second, to the best of my knowledge, the March 13, 2012 accident that claimed the life of your son and guide Rob Lieberman was the first avalanche fatality involving a heli-skiing operation in Alaska, ever. That is remarkable and in contrast with the rest of Alaska which regularly leads the U.S. in avalanche incidents and fatalities. Collectively, the helicopter skiing industry in Alaska provides between 7 and 10 thousand skier days each season and cumulatively as many as 100 thousand skier days were provided without an avalanche fatality. I understand that these statistics provide little comfort to you. What they suggest, however, is that your focus should be on the events of March 13, 2012 and those involved, not the rest of the industry.

I want to be clear that no set operating guidelines, no matter how well drafted or rigorously implemented can remove  all of the risks of helicopter skiing and snowboarding. These are inherently dangerous endeavors and the release and waiver forms that clients sign make this known to participants. Our organization will continue to work inside the industry to promote safety and professionalism and our goal will always be a zero accident rate. I am truly sorry that your son was lost in pursuit of the joy that riding and skiing in the backcountry can bring. I hope that you can find peace in this very difficult time

Very Truly Yours, Paul Butler

cc. Hon. Lisa Murkowski Hon. Diane Feinstein Hon. Mark Begich Hon. Barbara Boxer Hon. Donald Young Hon. Tom McClintock Hon. Sean Parnell


————————————————————————————
————————————————————————————
————————————————————————————
On March 3, 2013 another heli ski guide was killed, two clients injured during commercial heli skiing in Haines, Alaska. SEABA Heliskiing Company was operating out of bounds and ignored the local avalanche forecast warnings.
————————————————————————————-

————————————————————————————–

From Heather Lende’s blog, Haines, Alaska resident;

Heather Lende’s blog

Dark News on a Bluebird Day

Submitted by Heather on Mon, 03/04/2013 – 07:39

I am up too early. Sitting at the kitchen counter sipping coffee. The fire is popping in the stove, the radio is on low, with the news. Our news, that a heli-skiing accident yesterday killed one guide, and seriously injured two clients, hasn’t made the loop yet. But it will, I’m sure. I couldn’t sleep thinking about how our good news is someone else’s bad news. In the ski party of five (two guides, three clients) one guide was just on the other side of the crack that sent an avalanche crashing down the slope, and watched the whole thing. The other four were caught in it—including the terrific young man who is my daughter’s boyfriend and who is still sleeping upstairs. (It’s all I can do not to sneak in his room just to hear him breathing.) Bryan said he felt the telltale “whump” of doom and “knew” and pulled the cord on his red inflatable airbag as if it was a parachute and he was exiting a burning airplane. He had purchased the 1300.00 device with some money his grandmother left him. He wore a helmet my daughter made him buy this season. He tumbled along the top, and over and under and back up again—for about 1000 feet, he guesses, but still isn’t sure. The ride left the others battered and bleeding. Bryan doesn’t have a scratch. Not a black eye or a bloody lip. At the Haines clinic, they didn’t even realize he had been in the accident. He looked fine. His gloves were torn right off his hands, leaving only the elastic wristbands, but his hands look better than mine do. He has a cough from swallowing so much snow, and I’m sure when he awakes, now that the adrenaline has faded, he’ll be really sore. But he’s fine—fine! It’s a kind of miracle. Last night I went to bed so grateful and relieved that I nearly forgot about another family, the one whose son or daughter’s boyfriend won’t ever be sleeping safely upstairs again. Of course heli-skiing is dangerous. I don’t wear a personal airbag and a helmet when I walk the dogs on the beach. But you know, these mountains beckon. You should have seen the smiles Saturday night around here after Bryan’s bluebird day in the sun. The tales he told about it were thrilling, and for him, and all of them, it was crazy and fun. Oh mothers, what are we to do? Buy our boys one of those airbags. Tell them to wear a helmet. Remind them to be safe. Pray.

—————————————————————————————————————-

—————————————————————————————————————-

SEABA heli-skiing company has been trying to mislead the news by carefully avoiding the words avalanche and commercial heli-skiing.

——————————————————————————————————————-

——————————————————————————————————————–

Alaska heli-skiing guide killed in mountain accident

By Yereth Rosen | Reuters – Mon, Mar 4, 2013

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – A heli-skiing guide in Alaska was killed when he fell while traversing over the snow with two clients on a mountain peak outside Haines, one of the nation’s top heli-skiing destinations, authorities said on Monday.

Christian Arcadio Cabanilla, 34, died in what appeared to be a snow cornice collapse on Sunday afternoon, Alaska State Troopers said. The two clients with him suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were able to summon help.

Cabanilla was a guide with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, which described him on its website as an experienced back country snowboard guide and former commercial helicopter pilot who worked for many years in Alaska, Chile and Antarctica. He was also described as an avalanche and wilderness first-aid expert.

The case is being investigated and an autopsy is planned, said Megan Peters, a trooper spokeswoman.

Cabanilla’s death came a year after another accident in the Haines area that killed two helicopter skiers. In that accident last March, a guide with a different company, Alaska Heliskiing, and one of his clients died after being buried by an avalanche.

Haines is an increasingly popular destination for skiers willing to pay for helicopter flights to reach new and steep back country terrain. The city of about 2,000 is located at the northern tip of southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage and is surrounded by towering peaks in the Chilkat Range.

———————————————————————————————————-

 ———————————————————————————————————-

———————————————————————————————————–

Deadly Backcountry Accident Likely Caused By Cornice Failure

By Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines |

March 5, 2013 – 3:02 pm

A few new details have emerged in the backcountry skiing accident that caused the death of one person and injured two others over the weekend near Haines.

Alaska State Troopers were in Haines on Monday, interviewing witnesses and investigating the incident that claimed the life of 34-year-old Christian Cabanilla. He was part of a group of five skiers on a commercial heliskiing tour Sunday with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA). According to troopers, the group was dropped off on a ridge near Garrison Glacier at nearly 6,000 feet elevation in the mountains near Haines. Troopers said the group was walking on the ridge to their start point when they described hearing a “whomp” sound. That’s when the snow under them collapsed and four of the five skiers fell down the ridge an estimated 600 to 1,000 feet. The guide of the group was not involved in the fall.

Troopers said the SEABA-owned helicopter was observing the group and responded to rescue the three injured skiers.

Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said the incident was likely a cornice failure and not an avalanche. Peters said after the fall, the four skiers came to rest on top of the snow and appear to have been injured from the fall, not from being buried in snow.

SEABA helicopters flew the skiers to the HainesAirport where ambulances met the patients and transported them to the Haines clinic. Cabanilla was pronounced dead at the clinic. His body was flown to Anchorage for autopsy. The two injured skiers were transported to a Juneau hospital. One of them was later transported to HarborviewMedicalCenter in Juneau. Peters said troopers would not release the type of injuries and are not tracking their condition, but the injuries were initially described as “non-life threatening.”

Troopers are not releasing the names of any of the other skiers involved because they are considered witnesses in the death investigation.

——————————————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————————————-

——————————————————————————————————————–

From: Natalia Dodova (nataliadodova@hotmail.com] Sent: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 11:26 AM To: julie cozzi; mark earnest; stephanie scott; Kelley, David L (DNR); jeffrey kowalczyk; Bailey, Keith A (DOL); paul@heli-ski.com; cvn@chilkatvalleynews.com; Amdur, Neil; Peterson, James (Feinstein); Dial, Rodney L (DPS); Sullivan, Daniel S (DNR); info@alaskaheliski.com; General, Attorney (LAW sponsored); Long, Angella T (DPS); ben goduproduction; Joshua Clements Subject: another avalanche death in Haines

To Haines Borough and the Mayor of Haines;
Yesterday we learned about the fatal avalanche accident outside of Haines in the area called Kicking Horse Valley. The heli guide was killed, two clients were injured and one client survived without injury because he was able to deployed his air back pack.

Dark News on a Bluebird Day

Submitted by Heather Lende on Mon, 03/04/2013 – 07:39

In the ski party of five (two guides, three clients) one guide was just on the other side of the crack that sent an avalanche crashing down the slope, and watched the whole thing. The other four were caught in it.

Bryan said he felt the telltale “whump” of doom and “knew” and pulled the cord on his red inflatable airbag as if it was a parachute and he was exiting a burning airplane. He had purchased the 1300.00 device with some money his grandmother left him. Of course heli-skiing is dangerous.

Another heliskiing company ignored the wind slap conditions.  Eric Stevens, Haines Avalanche Information Center report.   Now that the most recent wind slabs have had to some time to settle and bond, many slopes are feeling more consolidated. That said, there are still wind-affected slopes in open areas where human-triggered avalanches are likely. Keep and eye out for hollow-sounding snow and hard wind slabs, and avoid these areas. Now that the sun is out in full force, expect slabs to soften some by afternoon, making triggering more likely. The danger may rise to CONSIDERABLE on steep south aspects with strong daytime heating. Also be aware of debris and loose slides coming down from cliffs. Observations from the pass Sunday found widespread areas of very weak layering in the snowpack, with whumphing/collapsing common. Natural avalanches were widespread on northerly aspects from the last storm. One group remotely triggered a large cornice break, which then caused a large slab avalanche below it (video can be seen here). Let this be a strong reminder of how dangerous cornices can be. Stay way back from them.
Last fall we filed a complaint to Haines Borough to investigate the death of our son. Mayor’s office and Haines Borough craftily ignored and denied our allegations. You decided to cover up gross negligence and criminal negligence.
We requested you involve a third party of experts to regulate and set new standards of safety operations and search and rescue protocols. By ignoring us you have missed the chance to change Haines into the best heliskiing safe place. This death is because of your ignorance and corruption.
Why Haines Borough hasn’t posted on their web site the Operating Permit that every heliskiing in Haines has apply for with the NEW safety standards and search and rescue protocols. We insist the Haines Borough and the Mayor’s Office to have the Operating Permit send to us and to have it posted on Haines Borough web site.   We are sending to you a safety proposal thoughtfully written down by experts, professional skiers and snowboarders, life time experience mountaineers and us.

Natalia and Alex Dodov

 ————————————————————————————————————

————————————————————————————————————-

————————————————————————————————————-

SEABA fined for landing at fatal accident site

May 16, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 19  | View PDF

The Haines Borough fined Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) $500 last week for operating on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property without a permit during the March 3 heli-skiing accident that killed a guide and injured two others.

Manager Mark Earnest, who can fine heli-skiing companies up to $1,000 per violation, said he decided on $500 because the company wasn’t merely operating on the border of the allowed area.

“I just looked at the circumstances and felt that that was justified… It rose to a higher level than being just a little outside of the map. So that was the decision,” Earnest said.

The accident occurred in the Kicking Horse drainage on a ridge near Garrison Glacier.

SEABA co-owner Scott Sundberg said this week he hasn’t yet spoken with Earnest about the fine, but he intends to. Sundberg said while he probably won’t appeal Earnest’s decision, he did find the fine excessive.

“I think it’s a little much. I think it was an error due to some confusing and conflicting maps… In my opinion, it was more of a minor deal. $500 is halfway to $1,000,” Sundberg said.

Earnest fined SEABA $200 each for two out-of-bounds landing violations on March 19, bringing the company’s fine total for the season to $900.

Sundberg has been in conversations with Department of Justice attorneys and BLM investigators for the past month regarding the March 3 unpermitted landing. Sundberg said he doesn’t get the impression the matter will become criminal or result in charges.

“They haven’t really dug too hard or done anything dramatic. They’ve just been more than anything doing an informative search. It’s not a criminal or litigated thing at this point. That is where it stands,” he said.

Department of Justice attorneys and BLM officials would not elaborate on the investigation. “We are continuing to investigate the matter in cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s office, and given that this is an ongoing investigation, it’s inappropriate for us to comment any further,” said BLM public information officer Tom Jennings.

Sundberg speculated BLM involved the Department of Justice because a fatality occurred during the unpermitted landing, so BLM is trying to minimize any liability. “They are worried a little bit that that might come back to the feds,” he said.

Sundberg said he has emphasized during the conversations his desire to maintain a good working relationship with BLM, as he doesn’t want to jeopardize SEABA’s ability to get a permit if BLM land around Haines is reopened to heli-skiing.

All BLM land in the Haines area has been closed to heli-skiing for the past several years, pending approval of the department’s Ring of Fire Draft Resource Management Plan.

Sundberg said SEABA is presently collaborating with Alaska Heliskiing representatives to identify problem areas in the borough’s heli-skiing map. The two companies are working together to bring an amended map to the borough for consideration.

The assembly can amend the heli-skiing map annually by resolution. Proposed map amendments are due by May 31 and must include an illustration of the area and rationale for the amendment in fewer than 500 words.

————————————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————————————-

—————————————————————————————————————-

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS

MAKE EVERY TRIP A ROUND TRIP

Natalia and Alex Dodov

March 21, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 11 | View PDF

Haines’ reckless commercial heli-skiing operators, as well as corruption, incompetence and ignorance in both the mayor’s office and Haines Borough led to another deadly accident in which a heli-ski guide was killed and two clients injured.

After last year’s avalanche accident in which a guide and a client were killed in a commercial heliskiing operation, Alaska Helisking company (AH), with support by the local government, suppressed information and tried to cover up what happened. After the most recent deadly accident on March 3, 2013, SEABA heli-skiing company has been trying to mislead the news by carefully avoiding the words avalanche and commercial heli-skiing.

Last year’s deadly avalanche accident happened because AH ignored dangerous conditions and the avalanche warnings. With regard to the accident on March 3, 2013, SEABA ignored the local avalanche forecast, the guide used bad judgment, and the trip was at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are concerns that SEABA was operating out of bounds.

After last year’s accident, AH failed to submit a detailed accident report to Haines Borough within the 72 hours as required by permit.

Now, after the accident on March 3rd, the Haines Borough clerk is stating: SEABA is not required to submit a detailed accident report with Haines Borough; such a report has to be sent to the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

A couple of months ago, DNR manager Dave Kelley said that the DNR doesn’t have the budget and ability to monitor safety. Again, the Haines Borough is passing the responsibility to another authority. The borough signed and stamped the operating permits for all commercial heli-skiing operators in Haines for 2013. The Haines Borough posted recently on its website new safety standards adopted by AH. Why doesn’t the borough require such standards of SEABA?

Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH) is the authority investigating the death of the SEABA heli-guide. AKOSH’s chief of enforcement Keith A. Bailey stated in email to us: “Natalia, I have an officer investigating this. I hope that there can be standards set that can produce safety protocol for this industry.” He also explained why AKOSH couldn’t investigate the death of Rob Liberman, the AH heli-guide killed in the 2012 avalanche, because the heli-skiing company did not inform AKOSH about the accident in the required time of eight hours. AKOSH found about it only by reading the newspapers. At that time, AKOSH sent investigators, but the AH facility was closed for the season and all eyewitnesses were gone. Thus, a detailed report and eyewitness statements were not submitted. AH lawyer reported to AKOSH: “Worker at a snow ski resort was buried under nearly eight feet of snow after an avalanche.” AKOSH fined AH $750 for failing to report their employee’s death.

AH has been operating with a state business license under “Arts, Entertainment and Recreation” with primary designation under “All Other Amusement and Recreation Industries” which doesn’t require a professional business license. AH operates from facilities, rents skis, rents air bag packs, has a guiding school and stores jet fuel. We strongly believe that AH has to have a professional business license as a ski facility. We also believe that SEABA has been operating without the proper professional business licenses as well. There is a reason for it not to have a professional permit – nobody wants to be monitor.

All the Haines heli-skiing operators have to be honest to their visitors and they should state on their websites: “We run an unregulated business. We have self-imposed safety standards. We work in a deadly environment where avalanches and snow slabs are more likely to occur. There is no safety, there is no search and rescue, and, if anything goes wrong, it is more likely that you will get injured or be killed. We don’t have a drug screening policy. Our guides take marijuana and Carboxy THC to ignore their fears and the dangerous conditions to be able to show you a good time. We don’t wear the latest safety equipment such as Air bag pack and AvaLung because we believe if our time comes, this is a noble death. We are part of Hollywood mainstream extreme ski movies that glorify the death you die for the ride of your life. You should ride like this is the last day of your life because if you die you’re gonna go to a place just like this.

The leading guides in the industry state in the movies: There is no room for “should of,” “could of,” “I wish I had,” because we have the life of the clients in our hands. Stuff can happen. We like your valuable visitor’s dollars and once you sign the release form, we are not responsible if you get injured or killed. If somebody gets killed, you should tell your loved ones they should not make a big deal, but if they decide to seek justice, we are the ones bringing business to this town, we run the show, our lawyers are like bulldogs and we have the local governing authorities in our back pockets. You are entering the Russian roulette of world of extreme; this is our Alaskan way.”

Deep condolences to Cabanilla’s loved ones. There is no glory to die so young because of the negligence of so-called professionals. What is left is nothing but extreme grief. For a whole year we have been trying to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, but no one from the governing authorities would listen. We request again to all Alaska authorities and Haines residents: Do anything possible in your power to make a visitor trip a round trip.

——————————————————————————————————————

——————————————————————————————————————-

——————————————————————————————————————-

THE NEW YORK TIMES
Extreme Grief
Published: March 5, 2013
One year later, even on film, the words are as chilling as they were that fateful day on the snow-covered mountain. Rob, Rob, do you copy?” the voice on the hand-held radio transmitter says alarmingly of events still unfolding at the time. Ben Clark’s decision to begin “The Alaskan Way” with the ominous scene that followed the March 13, 2012, avalanche and the deaths of the helicopter ski guide Rob Liberman and his snowboarding client, Nickolay Dodov, were motivated by the message that appears on a blackened screen near the end of his film: “Is living the dream worth risking it all?” As Clark’s 60-minute documentary makes the rounds of film festivals, the dream has become a recurring nightmare for families and friends of the skiers.
Alex and Natalia Dodov, whose 26-year-old son died, say they are still confused and angry about what actually happened that day on the west side of Takhin Ridge near Haines, Alaska. “We know that our son Nick’s death could have been prevented had there been stricter guidelines imposed,” the Dodovs wrote in a Jan. 22 letter to California’s two United States senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and other Congressional representatives, requesting an independent investigation, improved safety conditions and standardized regulations for helicopter skiing in Alaska.
It has been equally painful for Katherine Gill, who is known as Kit, and Robert A. Liberman, the divorced parents of the 35-year-old who moved to ski country from Manhattan and found devoted friends and an identity as an accomplished ski guide. Liberman’s father, who has seen Clark’s film, said he was “still very tender” about his son’s death. “I think my son really needed to get those rushes in life,” Liberman said.“ They meant a lot to him, and he felt very good about it, but I would tell you I’m sorry I ever showed him a pair of skis.”
Clark, 33, who successfully scaled Mount Everest 10 years ago, met Gill at a memorial service in Telluride, Colo., after the accident. Her grief so profoundly affected him, he said, that he has given up extreme skiing and rock climbing, although he still hikes and runs. Gill, a former fashion model, has declined to speak publicly about the accident. “Even though I thought I had a sense of self-worth,” Clark said in a recent phone interview, “I had no idea until I talked to Kit the day before the memorial and understood, truly, what was left behind when Rob passed away. Kit started to unravel the past to me thinking that I might have some answers. I just looked at her and broke down in tears and thought to myself: Oh my god! Here is a deep loss that I can’t even begin to explain the empathy that I had for her. “I started to think about my own parents and about my own wife,” Clark added. “Now that I have a son, it’s sort of like, wow, my whole life could still completely screw up and I could become a terrible father. But I can think of nothing harder than just wanting to know something and losing them in this way.”
Headlines of skiers buried by avalanches and the deaths of the 25-year-old snowmobiler Caleb Moore in January and the 29-year-old freestyle skier Sarah Burke last year have overshadowed growing concerns of the increased risk-taking and lack of regulation in extreme winter sports and their impact on families. Clark’s film, and another documentary, “The Crash Reel,” by Lucy Walker, which is scheduled for HBO later this year, may help change this perspective. Walker’s film looks at the life of Kevin Pearce, an American snowboard champion who sustained a traumatic brain injury on New Year’s Eve in 2009 while training in Park City, Utah.
Granted access to many aspects of Pearce’s rehabilitation, including an emotional family get-together last Thanksgiving, Walker explored the divide between risk-driven, free-spirited young athletes and their supportive, but tortured, families. Having recovered after a long, often painful process, Pearce talked at the dinner table of feeling “100 percent confident” of a return to snowboarding. But he was confronted by a distraught younger brother (“I don’t want you to die”), a tearful mother who feared the likelihood of another traumatic injury and a father who equated his son’s passion to an addiction. “If I was smoking every day,” Simon Pearce told his son, “you wouldn’t feel good about me. If I said I’ll cut it back to one cigarette a day, then it would be two cigarettes a day. When can you realize you’re clumsier? For me, it’s hard, because I don’t see your awareness. … ” “That gets back to my point that I’ve had this entire time,” Pearce interrupted, “that you guys have no faith.” Pearce appears to have reconciled realities, and returned to the sport as a commentator and supporter of education and research on traumatic brain injuries.
In the case of the Dodovs, Kit Gill, Robert Liberman and friends of other families affected by fatal incidents, the transition has been more difficult.
Last month a 24-year-old German employee at Revel stoke Mountain Resort in Canada, enjoying a day off, skied out of bounds and was buried and killed in an avalanche. One week earlier, another German heli-skier died in Canada. On Sunday an enormous cornice failure — a collapse of overhanging snow — outside Haines in the area called Kicking Horse Valley claimed the life of another heli-skiing guide when the snow gave way beneath him. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said 14 skiing deaths have occurred this year in the United   States. “There has been a steady increase,” Ethan Greene, the director of the center, said in a phone interview. “There is definitely an upward trend. It’s disturbing, but it’s people’s choices. With more people come more accidents.”
“Our media push to be extreme is a strong lure to young, athletic people,” said Marilyn Davis, a skier and close friend of the Dodovs in Bear   Valley, Calif., who has been assisting them in their appeal. “Nick was a young, athletic, very skilled person. It was not out of his capability to do what he was doing. But what we feel is that the regulations, what we’ve learned through this whole reading of this permit and operation and safety plan, is that the heli-ski industry imposes its own set of standards. They’re not governed or overseen by any monitoring agency. We feel that’s inappropriate.”
The Dodovs, who came to the United States from Bulgaria18 years ago, received a positive response Jan. 30 from Boxer, which said, “Please be assured that your matter will receive serious attention.” But in an indication of how regulations may differ across regions, the office of Senator Mark Begich of Alaska wrote, “Unfortunately, our office is prohibited by law from intervening in legal matters and cannot interfere with an investigation.”
No formal investigation is under way. Vicki Gardner, an owner of Alaska Heliskiing, which operates tours and a school for guides, and supervised the trip on the day of the March 2012 avalanche, said she had not seen Clark’s film and could not comment on the Dodovs’ charges that the group “was not informed about the dangerous snow conditions” that day and that the search-and-rescue response was “slow and inadequate.” She also declined to comment on conflicting reports about when and where their son had died and why his body was taken to a hospital in Seattle rather than kept in Alaska for an investigation.
The Dodovs claim that Alaska Heliskiing’s permit required the company to submit a detailed accident report to Haines Borough within 72 hours of the incident. “Such a report was not submitted,” they wrote in their letter. The Dodovs also claim the company filed a false accident report seven and a half months later with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Greene said the center had received the report, but that “we don’t make any judgments on the accuracy of the report.
I talked to the parents a number of times, and they certainly disagreed with a number of things in the report.” Stephanie Scott, the mayor of Haines Borough, said she had not seen Clark’s film. But she said the Dodovs’ 23-page letter, which was first filed as a complaint Aug. 17 and reported in the Sept. 13 edition of the Chilkat Valley News, “was distributed here.” In a Feb. 23 e-mail, she wrote: “I have personally expressed condolences to the Dodov and Liberman families. I too am the mother of young men and a daughter, and the suffering experienced by families when sons and daughters are lost is almost beyond imagining.”
Alex Dodov, who spent much of his career in the ski industry in Bulgaria and lives near Tahoe ski resorts, said: “The best skier, and the best snowboarder and the best mountaineer is the one who is alive because he has to tell the story. Only the wise people survive and enjoy this world of skiing.”
Liberman is a non skier who first took his son, at age 3, to a ski resort near their home in the Berkshires. He talked to him by phone the day before the accident, and he describes the world of extreme skiing as a kind of Russian roulette. “I don’t think it’s worth it,” he said.
Before the accident, Clark had been filming around Haines with the hope of producing a series of 8 to 12 instructional episodes on helicopter skiing. The documentary brought him full cycle from the confrontation he had with his own parents when he told them he was going to quit his job and attempt to climb Everest. “Until I spoke with Kit, it finally sunk in to me why my parents were upset,” Clark said. “It had nothing to do with dying, doing something you love or being willing to risk your life for something that thrills you. People think that’s admirable. But the people who think that’s admirable are not the people that were close to me, that I loved, that I left behind. We need to let people know that it is not just about you and the risk that you take, it’s about what you leave behind when you make this decision.”
After the accident, Philip Drake, a close friend of Rob Liberman’s, was designated to empty the remains from Liberman’s black 1999 Toyota Tacoma. Above the passenger visor, he found assorted holiday cards and letters. One of the cards was signed simply “Mom.” Drake was uncertain about the origin of the card until he received a thank-you letter from Kit Gill after the memorial for introducing her to Liberman’s friends. The signatures matched. Drake phoned Gill and relayed the episode. “She broke down and started crying, ”Drake recalled. “It’s just a tragic story from all angles.”
——————————————————————————————————————-
——————————————————————————————————————-
——————————————————————————————————————
Link to the article in The New Your Times;
——————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————
—————————————————————————————————————–

Ben Clark is a film maker who was in Alaska filming at the time of the avalanche accident and for a whole month before this. He was making a movie to promote Alaska Heliskiing Company. After his good friend Rob Liberman and client Nick Dodov were killed in the avalanche he transformed the movie to educate and bring awareness to the skiers and the snowboarders who are visiting Alaska and have misconceptions of this vast mountain.

Link to the post about Ben Clark’s climbing career and “retirement”
——————————————————————————————————————–
——————————————————————————————————————–
—————————————————————————————————————–
Haines Borough will not authorize Alaska Heliskiing LLC to operate within the Borough until they(AH) obtain a state permit allowing use of State Land for their commercial ski tour activities.
Link to the DNR Public Notice of issuing a state land use permit for Alaska Heliskiing
——————————————————————————————————————

We filed a petition with DNR to deny a state land permit to Alaska Heliskiing LLC for operating for five years without a permit.

—————————————————————————————————————–
DODOV’S PETITION TO DNR

Tell Alaska Department of Natural Resources to deny Haines State Forest land use permit to Alaska Heliskiing, LLC.

By Alex and Natalia Dodov

To be delivered to: Christy Gentemann, Natural Resource Specialist I, Daniel Sullivan, DNR Commissioner for Alaska State, Mark Earnest, Manager Haines Borough, and Jeff Kowalczyk, Manager, Bureau of Land Management Petition Statement

We, as concerned citizens, friends, families of skiers, snowboarders and other interested parties, request that the Department of Natural Resources deny Haines State Forest land use to Alaska Helisking, LLC. We must act during this time of public comment through March 17, 2013, to prevent issuance of a permit because the Haines Borough has already issued a permit of operation to Alaska Heliskiing for season 2013 contingent on receipt of a DNR permit. This permit was issued in spite of allegations and proven misconduct by Alaska Heliskiing. We believe our appeal to the DNR is the best way to stop Alaska Helilskiing from exposing further clients, and its own guides, to the grave risks demonstrated by their actions leading to the death of client, Nicolay Dodov and guide, Rob Liberman in an avalanche in Haines State Forest on March 13, 2012. We witness the lack of a unified regulatory agency for helisking in Haines State Forest. This lack of monitoring has allowed Alaska Heliskiing to operate without accountability and consequence. We ask that the Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources pay close attention to their responsibility, as stated in Appendix X , Item 10 in the department’s management plan, to address Alaska Heliskiing’s operation/safety plan before issuing a permit.

Petition Background

In March 2012, Nickolay Dodov headed out for a dream adventure with Alaska Heliskiing never to return. On March 13, Client, Nickolay Dodov and heliski guide, Rob Liberman, were killed in an avalanche on Takhin Ridge, northwest of Haines Alaska. We believe this could have been prevented. Heliskiing is a known, dangerous activity. When critical data concerning weather, terrain, snowpack and safety protocols are ignored the clients and guides are exposed to grave risk. The Haines Borough has issued a permit of operation to Alaska Heliskiing for season 2013, contingent on receipt of a land use permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. This permit was issued in spite of allegations and proven misconduct by Alaska Heliskiing. We believe this indicates a reason for concern to the Department of Natural Resources. We, as concerned citizens, friends, families of skiers, snowboarders and other interested parties, request that the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, deny Haines State Forest land use to Alaska Helisking given the information listed below. David Kelly, Regional Manager of Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources, stated that safety regulation is not the concern of the DNR. However, a notation in Appendix X , Item 10 in the department’s management plan, specifies a regular review of an operation plan is to be taken into consideration when issuing a permit. Shouldn’t such an operation plan include a safety plan? There is no unified regulatory agency. Loopholes exist between the two permitting departments, Department of Natural Resources does not take into account safety regulations and, according to Julli Cozzi, Haines Borough Clerk, “…compliance with the submitted operating and safety plan is not included in the list of permit conditions in Haines Borough code. Alaska Heliskiing was not required to obtain a state permit if its operations were limited to no more than 11 persons per day on state land. This lack of monitoring has allowed Alaska Heliskiing to operate without accountability and consequence as demonstrated by, but not limited to, the following points.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing has broken Alaska state law, Haines Borough code and its own safety plan.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing failed to meet standards set by the Haines State Forestry Plan.

➢ Evidence exists to show daily flights with more people then specified in Commercial Recreation Day Use.

➢ Evidence exists of environmental violation regarding fuel storage.

Julie Cozzi states that there is substantial evidence to indicate that Alaksa Heliskiing was negligent in at least eight violations of permit codes. Guided by Mayor Stephanie Scott, Borough Manager Mark Earnest, and Borough Attorney Brooks Chandler, Cozzi submitted a 15 page memo admitting the truth of a number of allegations presented by the parents of Nickolay Dodov. In summary, there are the following permit violations, operating and safety plan violations and state law violations: The points listed below are taken from her report. *see appendix at end of letter stating evidenced allegations not recognized by Cozzi.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing failed to obtain a permit for use of state lands over multiple years of operation.

➢ Failed to submit a detailed accident report to Haines Borough within 72 hours of the incident. The accident report referenced in the operations plan was not filed with the Borough until December 31, 2012.

➢ Failed to submit a mutual aid agreement.

➢ Failed to file a report of employee death with the Workman’s Compensation Board of State of Alaska.

➢ Twice flew out of bounds after the accident, March 15 and 25th.

➢ Posted inaccurate and misleading information on its website relating to guide certification and company safety standards which, according to Cozzi, indicate “… inaccurate statements were specifically intended to attract customers based on false claims directly related to safety.”

➢ No snow pit or stability tests were performed at the site where the accident occurred prior to the run. Therefore, there is some truth to the allegation of a failure to evaluate snow conditions.

➢ Possible failures to follow additional requirements of operating plan requiring exercise of judgment as to safety of skiing prior to a run and post-accident procedures (failure to dig test pit or do ski test, failure to transport accident victim directly to clinic).

➢ Possibility that a company employee was guiding customers while under the influence of marijuana.

➢ These violations provided “a potential basis for permit denial,” Cozzi said. “Alaska Heliskiing is warned that the above past conduct will be considered in any permit renewal in 2014 and that continuing violations … may result in permit suspension or revocation. Cozzi admits several times in her report that she has “…a fairly limited range of expertise to examine details of whether a business operation meets standards for safe operation”, yet she is the responsible authority for issuing permits! Cozzi expressed in her decision that, “A single accident, even one that results in a customer death…… will not automatically result in a denial of a permit renewal application”. In an industry where much money stands to be made in a very high risk commercial business it seems a travesty that a Borough clerk is in charge of issuing the heliski permits. We seek a complete investigation of Alaska Heliskiing practices with the desire that such efforts will put in place unified regulation of operation and safety procedures which will prevent further illegal use of Alaska State Forest and further loss of life. We request that the State of Alaska investigate Haines Borough. The Haines Borough has signed and stamped an outdated permit for five years to Alaska Heliskiing. Haines Borough has allowed five years illegal use of Department of Natural Resources state land for commercial use. Haines Borough must also be held accountable for the misinformation on the permit that states BLM as the authority that screens and monitors safety protocols, search & rescue plans, etc. BLM has not issued land use permits for heliski companies since 2005. The citizens of Haines have been filing complaints with Haines Borough and writing articles (Chilkat Valley News and Anchorage Daily News) since 2004.These concerns have been largely ignored or not dealt with in a consequential manner. Rather, Haines Borough has rewarded the heli company’s with more user days. Clearly there is a need for a monitoring agency that will enforce the law and prioritize the need for Public Safety, as currently the issuing authority is more interested in “visitation dollars” generated by heliskiers. *Appendix: Despite the filed complaint to the Haines Borough from the parents of Nickolay Dodov with facts, evidence and support material, Borough Clerk did not admit the truth of the following formidable allegations presented by Alex and Natalia Dodov, parents of Nickolay Dodov.

➢ Nickolay Dodov was transported to a hospital in Seattle, WA, where he was declared dead. According to the doctors from Trauma Center in Seattle his actual death occurred in Alaska. In our opinion Nickolay was transported out of the state of Alaska, to prevent a state investigation.

➢ On March 13, dangerous avalanche conditions existed and Alaska Heliskiing did not adequately warn or inform clients of the inherent dangers. The trip was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guide used bad judgment.

➢ The clients did not receive proper instruction on use of safety equipment.

➢ The rescue was overly lengthy and complicated and may have 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 and may have contributed to the death of Nickolay Dodov.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing filed a false accident report with the National Avalanche Center in Colorado.

➢ Evidence exists that guide Rob Lieberman had high levels of marijuana THC and Carboxy THC, a metabolized form of marijuana, which indicated the use of drugs before the accident.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing’s operation permit (issued by Haines Borough) was 5 years outdated. Because Bureau of Land Management had not issued Alaska Heliskiing a permit since 2005, administration responsibilities were overlooked. The BLM’s responsibility for administration of Alaska Heliskiing helicopter skiing operations include: o Inspection 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. o Cooperation with Alaska Heliskiing personnel in avalanche safety with regard to the helicopter skiing program. o Recommendation of a close working relationship with the Haines Borough and BLM as desirable.

➢ Based on film footage, the owner of Alaska Heliskiing resisted giving GPS data requested by Haines Borough, due to multiple out of bounds use. Instead of holding Alaska Heliskiing accountable for their criminal trespassing, the Haines Borough exhibits support for Alaska Heliskiing by letting them continue with their operation.

There are currently 339 signatures ( March 3th – March 24th)

#339 George Katzarski Mar 24, 2013 Victoria, Canada
I, George Katzarski, am a close personal friend of the Dodov family   and have witnessed the pain and suffering the experienced and are still   experiencing due to the negligence, unprofessional attitude and poor judgment   of Alaska Helisking LLC. On March 13th, 2012 the parents of Nickolay Dodov   lives changed forever when Nicholay died as a result of an avoidable accident   caused by Alaska Helisking LLC. I appeal to the Department of Natural   Resources to deny the use of Haines    StateForest   land to Alaska Helisking LLC. This should have been done immediately after   the death of Nicholay and it is unthinkable that other lives may. E   endangered by containing to lease these lands for the purpose of profiting   from disrespecting the safety and welfare of the clients who entrust their   precious lives with Alaska Helisking LLC. It is unthinkable that the Dept. od   Natural Resources continue to do business with such a company. Pride   yourselves in knowing that disassociating yourselves with Alaska Helisking   LLC will undoubtedly save the lives of other innocents.
#338 Hristofor Chernev Mar 19, 2013 Sofia, Bulgaria
#337 Arla Yost Mar 18, 2013 Vallecito, CA
#336 Peter Mushatov Mar 17, 2013 Montreal, Canada
#335 Gregory Payne Mar 16, 2013 San Francisco, CA
#334 Elizabeth Stefanova Mar 16, 2013 sofia, Bulgaria
#333 Mike and Adeline Bagwell Mar 15, 2013 Modesto, CA
#332 Amy Fitzpatrick Mar 15, 2013 Seattle, WA
#331 Angel Antonov Mar 15, 2013 Bulgaria
#330 Plamena Antova Mar 15, 2013 Bulgaria
#245 Krassin Petrov Mar 8, 2013 Sofia, Bulgaria
Alaska Heliskiing’s operation is obviously a gamble with death   and has to stop ASAP !!! There should be severe consequences for the owner of   the company and the people who let him run his game !!!
#193 Charlene Vine Mar 7, 2013 Sacramento, CA
As a person who sustained a life-long injury from snow sports   and I can see both sides of the story. Yes these activities are dangerous and   can be life threatening but there are also ways to factor out a lot of risk.   When a company is making money from packaging these sports I believe they   have a duty to minimize the risk as much as possible. I don’t believe that   happened in this case.

#160 Ken Schultz Mar 6, 2013 Leucadia, CA
From Haines Borough documents, it appears that Alaska     Heliskiing LLC routinely broke or ignored many of the rules governing their     access to public land for commercial purposes. Of most concern is the     statement that the guide on this ill-fated expedition was using marijuana     just before or even during the outing. This is unacceptable behavior. It     surely contributed to the cause of the accident. Please revoke their Alaska land use     permit. Thank you.

#121 Samantha Mar 5, 2013 Oakwood, CA
We need safer snow sports. in memory of Nickolay Dodov.

#117 Nickola Milkovski Sr Mar 5, 2013 Redwood           City, CA
Prison time, not jail–THEY ALL BELONG TO PRISON!!!
#116 Patricia Smalling Mar 5, 2013 Angels Camp, CA
Common sense, nothing more

#113 Mario Rojas Mar 5, 2013 Avery, CA
Safety First
#106 Cate Wallenfels Mar 5, 2013 Novato, CA
There have to be regulations and they must be followed or innocent people die bringing pain to so many. It is obvious on so many levels Alaska Helisking was negligent. Honor this and prevent them from doing more harm to others. Do what is right.

#93 Paula Li Mar 5, 2013 Bear             Valley, CA
Haines heliskiing is not safe

#90 Paul Barnes Mar 5, 2013 Stockton, CA
Safe and sane/rescue procedures a must/training of all guides to a higher level.Risk is guide liability.

#85 Mike Wallenfels Mar 4, 2013 Novato, CA
I want to sign this petition

#84 Bryan Pressnall Mar 4, 2013 Cold                   Springs, CA
Although there is always an assumption of risk with heliskiing, the level of professionalism and proper safety procedures by Alaska Helisking was sub-standard. The agencies that issue permits seem to be putting the responsibility of monitoring the permittees in the hands of the customers.
#81 Emma-Louise van der Blij March 4,2013 Bray, Nr Maidenhead, United                   Kingdom
Why is it necessary to have to go through such incredible pain to get the slightest attention!! Worst…why has an investigation not yet been actioned by the                 Authorities?

#71 nada sibley Mar 4, 2013 bear valley, CA
I sign this with the knowledge that yesterday March 3, 2013 another accident that caused a death in the Haines State Forest

#66 Janet Tittiger Mar 4, 2013 Lafayette,                      CA
this accident should be  fully investigated!

#63 Barbara Mar 4, 2013 Litchfield Park, AZ
take action!

#51 Marilyn Davis Mar 4, 2013 Bear Valley, CA
changes for the future and accountability for the past is what I hope                    for.
#48 Cheryl Divine Mar 4, 2013 Columbia, CA
Prevent further deaths

#46 Bob Smalling Mar 4, 2013 altaville, CA
too many businesses just want to get the money and don’t care for the safety of their customers or their employees…

#35 Konstantin                             Kouumadjiev Mar 4, 2013 Germany
my sign to prevent killing other people!

#30 Thomas Costa Mar 3, 2013 Arnold, CA
I hope many more sign this petition and agree with its cause

#27 LaurenSchimke Mar3,2013 Bear Valley, CA
This company must loose the permit. Very unsafe guidelines for clients and  too many mistakes made. No more lives lost!

#24 Richard                                   Fehr Mar                                   3, 2013 Piedmont, CA
Nick Dodov’s death was one “accident” which would have not occurred if the state agencies and helisking operator involved had fulfilled their responsibilities.

#21 Nancy Page Mar 3, 2013 Dorrington, CA
Despite the dangers inherent in heliskiing, this accident could have and should have been prevented. Alaska Heliski should be held accountable.

#20 Jamie Briggs Mar3, 2013 Port                                         Angeles, WA
The permit issued to Alaska Heliskiing should be withdrawn until resolution of allegations and proven misconduct by Alaska Heliskiing. We believe our appeal to the DNR is the best way to stop Alaska Helilskiing from exposing further clients, and its own guides, to the grave risks demonstrated  by their actions leading to the death of client, Nickolay Dodov and guide, Rob Liberman in an avalanche in Haines State Forest on March 13, 2012.

#13 Mike Davis Mar 3, 2013 Bear                                         Valley, CA
Don’t go heliskiing with Alaska Heliskiing! Dont take your money to Haines Alaska either!

#12 Jill wegenstein Mar 3, 2013 Bear valley, CA
How could a license be renewed when proven misconduct has been determined?

#7 Thea Schoettgen Mar 3, 2013 Bear                                         Valley, CA
No more. Alaska Heliskiing has proven its a disreputable company. Do not give them a permit to operate on Alaska’s public lands. Save client & guide lives, no more loss of lives. Do not give Alaska Heliskiing your money or patronage.

#2 Lynn Renn Mar 3, 2013 Sebastopol, CA
I have been a professional in the ski industry for 20 years. Now retired, I have young friends who are still thrilled by the thought of heliskiing. I am appalled by the events leading up to, and after, the death of Nickolay. There must be time to bring this company to task, and as I see it, there will be plenty of time if this permit is denied. I call for regulation of heliskiing in Alaska and Haines State Forest Land.
#1 Alex and Natalia Dodov Mar 3, 2013

ALASKA – OUTLAW STATE; HAINES BOROUGH RENEWS HELI SKI PERMIT FOR COMPANY THAT BROKE LOCAL AND STATE LAWS AND ITS OWN SAFETY PLAN; ALASKA STATE TROOPRES WILL NOT REOPEN AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE HELI-SKI ACCIDENT THAT KILLED TWO PEOPLE IN HAINES; US HELISKIING ASSOSIATION DECLIEND TO BECOME INVOLVED

In an article in Chilkat Valley News, Haines Borough officials stated that they don’t have any expertise of safety standards for heliskiing.

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966
BOROUGH CONSIDERS HELI-SKIING SAFETY
September 27, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 39 | View PDF
By Tom Morphet

Haines Borough officials last week addressed the topic of safety in relation to management of heli-skiing, following concerns raised by the family of a heli-skier killed in an avalanche during a tour in March.
Borough officials said the municipality isn’t responsible for ensuring safety during heli-tours, but they consider a company’s safety record in evaluating tour permit requests and in making allocations of skier days.
Among other questions, Alex and Natalia Dodov have asked why the borough didn’t conduct its own investigation of the March 13 accident. The borough requires heli-ski companies to submit safety plans in order to receive a borough tour permit.
In an interview, Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest said the safety plan requirement was “a checklist item” similar to when the borough requires a copy of an insurance policy during submittal of a project bid, or a photocopy of a bond. “There isn’t necessarily a vetting or a check that takes place to determine the validity or status of those documents. The company’s insurance company is going to require they have a bond.”
However, in the manager’s report to the borough assembly last week, Earnest said that, by code, “past safety” is a factor to be considered when the borough makes decisions on renewing permits and allocating skier days.
“However, I do not intend to have the borough independently investigate the 2012 avalanche deaths. We do not have the expertise on staff to undertake this type of investigation,” Earnest wrote. If the assembly wants such an investigation, it would have to hire an “outside technical expert,” he wrote.
Alaska Heliskiing, the company involved in the March accident that also killed one of its guides, hasn’t applied for a permit for the coming year. Neither have two other local firms that have held permits in the past.
The question of requiring a safety plan was raised during an assembly committee meeting last week. Member Debra Schnabel suggested the borough eliminate the requirement and instead require companies to sign an affidavit that they have such a plan.
“I don’t believe the borough has any expertise in reviewing a safety plan to determine it meets industry standards. Our only interest is in making sure there’s a safety plan in place,” Schnabel said this week.
She noted that the borough already requires heli-ski companies to provide proof of insurance. “Certainly the insurance company is more qualified to judge whether the safety plan is a good one or not. Why do we need that in our files? We would like them to be responsible and having a plan for safety is a responsible thing to do, but it’s not my expertise to determine whether that plan is adequate,” Schnabel said.
“Why not reduce even an appearance of liability and paperwork by omitting the requirement that they submit a safety plan?” she asked.
Schnabel said Earnest wouldn’t have to investigate the fatal accident in order to incorporate Alaska Heliskiing’s safety record into a decision on a heli-ski permit or numbers of skier days. “You don’t have to investigate it. When somebody dies, they’re not safe. That’s unsafe.”
As to the code language about incorporating a company’s safety record into a decision on renewing a permit or allocating skier days, Schnabel said she was not aware that the municipality has previously kept tabs on those records, such as the number of clients injured while skiing with a given company. “I don’t think we do that now.”
Mayor Stephanie Scott said last week that safety plans are required but not approved by the municipality. She recommends keeping the requirement, however, as a means of providing information to the public.
There appears to be at least one precedent for the borough withholding a tour permit due to safety concerns. The borough denied a tour permit renewal to Dave Button about five years ago, citing numerous safety concerns.
Scott said this week there were many complaints against Button.
“I’m not saying (Alaska Heliiskiing’s) permit isn’t going to be pulled. There’s a gazillion reasons a group could lose their permit. But that decision is an administration decision. That situation is being investigated. And (Alaska Heliskiing) haven’t even asked for (a permit). So, let’s see what happens.”
Earnest declined to comment on whether the safety plan requirement leaves the borough vulnerable to a lawsuit in the event of heli-ski accidents. “I don’t want to speculate on any potential legal issue.”
Asked whether he had asked the borough attorney to check on the borough’s potential risk, Earnest said: “We’ve talked about that in general during development of the (heli-ski) ordinance. I think we’ve had that discussion in the past, but we haven’t spoken directly to that recently. I haven’t had that specific conversation (with the borough attorney). But I may have that conversation.”

We exchanged emails with US Heliskiing Association, assuming that they would be interested to learn about the avalanche accident in Haines that killed two people: our son Nickolay Dodov and the guide Rob Liberman.
We also wanted to ask US Heliskiing Association if there are any safety standards set for all heliskiing companies in US.

EMAILS WITH PAUL BUTLER,
THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF US HELISKIING ASSOSIATION

On Nov 10, 2012, at 7:17 PM, nataliadodova@hotmail.com wrote:

Name: Natalia and Alex Dodov
Email: nataliadodova@hotmail.com
Phone: 209 753 2828
Message: To Paul Butler

Hi Paul,
My name is Natalia Dodova, I am mother of Nickolay Dodov, who was
killed in the avalanche on Thankin Ridge, Haines, AK. With my
husband, Alex Dodov, we are experienced ski mountaineers; our son
was an experienced backcountry snowboarder. We have been
investigating and we have a lot of information regarding the
accident. Would you be interested to look at it and help us with
your professional opinion?
We would like to ask you if there are any safety and search and
rescue standards that the heli companies in the US should operate
under? Have you been working with the Alaska Heli Company, Haines?
Is Alaska Heli Company member of the HSUS? Do you know who authorized
Alaksa Heli Company to have a heli guiding school? Did you know that
the autopsy finds THC higher than the background levels in the guide
Rob Liberman’s blood? Where HSUS does stands in this matter
regarding drugs?
Thank you very much
Natalia and Alex Dodov
Submit: send

North Cascade Heli (info@heli-ski.com)
11/12/12
To: nataliadodova@hotmail.com

Hi, Natalie and Alex:
I am sorry about the loss of your son and extend you my deepest
sympathy and condolences. I have a son myself, age 12, and I cannot
begin to imagine how you both must feel.
I would rather discuss this over the phone if you were okay with that.
I am somewhat familiar with the incident.
Would sometime tomorrow work for you? Please let me know. If we cannot
talk over the phone then I will respond in more detail by email.
As a member and current president of Heli Ski US, I am obliged to
differentiate my personal opinion from that of representing the
association. I hope this is understandable.

Again, I am truly saddened about your loss.

Sincerely,
Paul Butler

CONVERSATION WITH KEVIN QUINN,
THE NEW PRESIDENT OF US HELISKIING ASSOSIATION

Conversation started November 12, 2012

From Natalia Dodova
Hi Jessica and Kevin,
My name is Natalia Dodova, I am mother of Nickolay Dodov, who was killed in the avlanche on Thankin Ridge, Haines, AK. With my husband, Alex Dodov, we are experienced ski mountaineers; our son was an experienced backcountry snowboarder. We have been investigating and we have a lot of information regarding the accident. Would you be interested to look at it and help us with your professional opinion?
We would like to ask you if there are any safety and search and rescue standars that the heli companies in the US should operate under? Have you been working with the Alaska Heli Company, Haines? Is Alaska Heli Company member of the HSUS? Do you know who autorized Alaks Heli Company to have a heli guiding school? Did you know that the autopsy finds THC higher than the background levels in the guide Rob Liberman’s blood? Where does HSUS stands in this matter regarding drugs?
Thank you very much
Natalia and Alex Dodov

November 14, 2012

12:27pm
From Kevin Quinn
Hello Natalia-
My deepest condolences to you and your family, truly!
I cannot comment on the operation in Haines as I have no real knowledge on them aside from the fact they are not part of HSUS.
Please look at the HSUS web site as we have our mission listed there. http://www.usheliskiing.com
I do know that Rob Liberman was a very good ski guide. The THC levels is not something I can comment on. All of this is very unfortunate.
Again, my deepest condolences to you and your family. I believe our President of Heli US will be in contact with you shortly.
Best,
Kevin

US HELISKIING ASSOSIATION RESPONSE TO US
info@heli-ski.com (info@heli-ski.com)
11/17/12
To: nataliadodova@hotmail.com

Hello, Natalia and Alex:
I have been in contact with the members of Heli Ski US, and from our discussion we have crafted our association’s reply as seen below. I would still like to speak with either of you over the phone if you are still interested in doing so.

Sincerely,
Paul

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dodov,
On behalf of Heli-Ski US, allow me to begin by telling you how sorry we are for the loss of your son, Nickolay. As members of the larger mountain community, I know that we all feel a sense of loss when one of our own is injured or killed in pursuit of the mountain lifestyles that are so central to our identities. I don’t know what words I can offer that might take away the pain of your loss. Having experienced the death of close friends in mountaineering, I have watched as survivors have chosen to return to the mountains again. I can only say that there is something compelling and healing in those places and I hope that you can find the opportunity take solace among mountains again.
In response to your questions, Alaska Heliskiing is not, and has never been, a member or our organization and I do not know of an organization that would have sanctioned its guide school program. Heli-Ski U.S. Association, Inc. represents approximately one-half of all helicopter skiing operators in the United States. While promoting safe operating practices is part of our program, membership in our organization is voluntary – those standards would not have been applicable to Alaska Heliskiing. Importantly, no set of standards, no matter how carefully conceived or implemented can eliminate all of the risks that are inherent in backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
Without in any way diminishing the gravity of your loss or own concern for safety in helicopter skiing, we do not believe that Heli-Ski U.S. would be serving the needs of our member companies or the industry by becoming involved in an investigation of your son’s accident. We must therefore, respectfully but firmly decline your request to become involved in this matter.
I wish you peace though what is undoubtedly a very difficult time.
Paul Butler
President

From Paul Butler, (The Former President of US Heliskiing Assossiation)

“You note that you were unable to obtain a copy of our operating protocols and that you could not locate them on our website, suggesting that they do not exist. Given AH’s references to the apparently non-existent Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, your cynicism is understandable, but incorrect. Our Heli-Skiing Safety & Operating Procedures(HSOP) guidelines are extensive and substantive. More important, the operations
of our member firms are periodically audited for compliance and applicant firms must pass a thorough audit before they can become members. We do not publish or otherwise release the HSOP guidelines because, in our view, the impact of doing so would be precisely the opposite of our goal in creating them. Because of its level of detail, the HSOP could be used by persons wishing to enter the field to create a credible operating and safety plan, notwithstanding a lack of experience and technical resources. We would, in essence, be facilitating the creation of unqualified operations. We make the HSOP available to firms that have been in the field for at least two full years, provided they sign an agreement to be audited and pay a modest fee and the audit expenses. We believe that this is the best way for our organization to promote safety in the industry.
I cannot agree with your call for regulation of the helicopter skiing industry. First, I note that many recreational activities involve
risk and are not regulated by government agencies, despite accidents that sometimes result in loss of life. For example, horseback riding, mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, scuba diving and parasailing all include significant risks, but none is regulated by government. I want to be clear that no set operating guidelines, no matter how well drafted or rigorously implemented can remove all of the risks of helicopter skiing and snowboarding. These are inherently dangerous endeavors and the release and waiver forms that clients sign make this known to participants. Our organization will continue to work inside the industry to promote safety and professionalism and our goal will always be a zero accident rate. Your focus should be on the events of March 13, 2012 and those involved, not the rest of the industry.”

We have learned what is behind US Heliskiing Association. According to Dean Cummings, owner of Valdez-based H2O Guides, he belonged to HSUS for 12 years. Cummings helped craft the association’s safety document, but bowed out because of what he perceived as a “lack of direction” and the association’s failure to rotate leadership. “I think they are doing okay. They’re more of an exclusive association where they handpick their members.”

We also have learned that the multimillion dollar heliski industry is an unregulated commercial business without strict safety standards for every operator. It is more like self imposed safety standards that can not be revealed on their web sites, neither to clients nor to victim’s families searching for answers. Paul Butler suggested that we should concentrate on suing AH, knowing that AH’s insurance, WOGA, has multimillion dollar insurance funds that insure all of the outdoor recreational high risk operators and it is a part of USHA. Also knowing that, we are going to deal with AH insurance lawyer Tracy Knutson. After the accident, AH manager Orion Koleis was treating everybody; as if they didn’t cooperate they would have to deal with their attorney who is like a bulldog.

Tracy Knutson stated on her website;

Tracey Knutson’s belief, when it comes to recreational endeavors, is that risk and opportunity exist simultaneously. Learning how to maximize the opportunities in your recreational endeavors by minimizing or mitigating the risks is a key component of operating a quality adventure sport or recreational endeavor or business.

Tracey Knutson’s clients are largely people who are hard working, conscientious and very excited about getting other folks into the outdoors. Because she believes strongly in educating herself in her client’s areas of work and because she believes strongly in personal responsibility (hence, her focus on defense work) she currently holds a number of certifications in the outdoor recreation area and continues to do some guide work herself.

Tracy Knutson defends AH, believing that they are hard working and conscientious people.

The definition of conscientiousness in Webster’s dictionary is;

A conscientious worker makes a conscientious effort to comply with the regulations.

Conscientiousness is the trait that denotes being thorough, careful, or vigilant; it implies a desire to do a task well. It is manifested in characteristic behaviors such as being efficient, organized, neat, and systematic,[2] also including such elements as self-discipline, carefulness, thoroughness, self-organization, deliberation (the tendency to think carefully before acting), and need for achievement. Conscientious individuals are generally hard working and reliable.

To make a profit, AH ignored dangerous conditions and, as a result, two people were killed. AH broke city and state law and its own safety plan. AH had their guide operating under influence of high level of marijuana THC. AH posted fraudulent information on their web site. AH filed a five-years-outdated operating plan with Haines Borough. Haines Borough received numerous complaints against AH being recklessly operating out of bounds. AH dumped jet fuel waste in the river. AH filed a false report to the National Avalanche Center.

So much for being conscientious operator.

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
NATIONAL HELI-SKI GROUP FOCUSES ON STANDARTDS

January 10, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 1 | View PDF
By Karen Garcia

The Haines Borough’s heli-ski season is just around the corner, and in the wake of an accident that killed two people last spring, concerns about safety aren’t going away.
Like much of the recreation industry, heli-skiing falls largely outside most state and federal regulations concerning occupational safety and health. Similarly, the borough, which requires heli-ski operations to acquire a tour permit and to submit a safety plan, does not regulate safety.
Some, including the parents of the Alaska Heliskiing client who died in the avalanche last April, have pointed to an association called heliski US (HSUS) as a potential solution to the lack of standards.
According to its website, “the main purpose of the Heli-Ski US Association is to set the highest level of operation standards and protocols for its members,” which it does through the implementation of its Heli Operations Safety Procedures document.
The document, in its seventh edition, includes standards – such as operating protocols, snow safety and weather forecasting programs and emergency response planning – that all companies must maintain as members of the association.
Three Alaska heli-ski companies are full-fledged members of the association – Girdwood-based Chugach Powder Guides, Cordova-based Points North Heli-Adventures, and Valdez Heli-Ski Guides.
According to Kevin Quinn, owner/operator of Points North, membership in the organization is somewhat hard-won. Quinn said he was eight years in the business before he was accepted, and “just kept pounding on the door” for the association to take him.
The process is also ardous: once a company has at least three to five years under its belt, it can become a prospective member – Juneau-based Alaska Powder Descents is currently one – for two years, Quinn said.
During this probationary period, the company is monitored and mentored by another member of the association. At the end of the two years, the company can ask to be reviewed for acceptance as a full-fledged member, which involves an extensive audit and review of the operation by two members of HSUS, Quinn said.
Quinn, HSUS President Paul Butler, and several other operators acknowledged that while HSUS is the “gold standard” endorsement of a heli-skiing company, that’s not to say non-member companies aren’t operating to those same high standards.
“I think the benefit to the client is they are assured they are working with the best in the country, that they are working with a company that has met the standards that the association members have imposed upon themselves. I think a lot of companies already do that, but it’s a stamp of approval. I think it’s important a client knows who they are skiing with,” said Scott Raynor, owner of Valdez Heli-Ski Guides.
HSUS’s critics point to the cost of membership, which can be prohibitive, and the association’s club-like exclusivity. According to Quinn, members pay a one-time $5,000 fee, plus $1,500-$2,500 in annual dues.
Dean Cummings, owner of Valdez-based H2O Guides, belonged to HSUS for 12 years. Cummings helped craft the association’s safety document, but bowed out because of what he perceived as a “lack of direction” and the association’s failure to rotate leadership.
“I think they are doing okay. They’re more of an exclusive association where they handpick their members,” Cummings said.
Cummings also said that the association, while nationwide, “distances itself from Alaska.” The industry, he said, would benefit immensely from a similar statewide association that focuses solely on Alaskan heli-skiing, which he said is different than heli-skiing in the Lower 48.
According to Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest, in the wake of the fatal avalanche last spring, the borough discussed the idea of requiring local heli-ski companies to belong to an association like HSUS. Assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck contacted HSUS president Butler regarding the idea and summarized his findings in an email to Mayor Stephanie Scott.
“At this point no other municipalities or land managers in the country require membership and I doubt we want to be first. In addition, they don’t necessarily certify operators or take on any liability for the actions of their members. It seems their main value is a peer review of the members’ plans. While this will certainly be great for any operator, I don’t think the borough wants to require this,” Culbeck said.
“I think (HSUS) probably, so far, gives the most oversight in safety plans, but it’s just an organization that has no authority. It’s a member-driven organization,” Culbeck added in a later interview.
Culbeck also said Natalia and Alex Dodov, the parents of the client who died in the accident, submitted details from the accident to HSUS for review and judgment. HSUS declined to participate.
Scott Sundberg, owner of Haines-based Southeast Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) said his company has been looking into becoming a member of HSUS for several years. Time and money, though, delayed Sundberg from initiating the process, as did his opinion – similar to Cummings’ – that the industry would benefit more from an association focused solely on Alaska as opposed to the entire country.
“You have to go through an audit with them and you have to get a sponsor and you have to pay a bunch of money to get in. In some ways it is kind of prohibitive in the early start-up of the company,” Sundberg said.
This season, though, Sundberg said Colorado-based HSUS member Telluride Helitrax has agreed to mentor SEABA, the first step to becoming a part of the organization.
“Through recent discussions we’ve been convinced that it’s worth it because of their lobby presence and their resources that way. They’ve got pretty good client manifests,” Sundberg said.
Sundberg also said that SEABA is currently operating up to HSUS standards and expects to pass any audit they perform.
As the growth of HSUS demonstrates, the heli-skiing industry seems to be heading toward some sort of rudimentary standardization. As the industry continues to grow – and operators statewide agree that it’s booming – more voices seem to clamor for some kind of oversight agency or regulation.
Fatal accidents like the one last spring only increase the volume of that clamor. But people need to remember, Points North owner Kevin Quinn said, heli-skiing is an inherently risky activity. And not even a litany of rules and regulations can guarantee that nothing will go wrong.
“Being a part of heliski US wouldn’t have saved those people,” Quinn said. “Not even kind of.”

Chilkat Valley News
Volume XLII Number 47 Thursday, November 22, 2012
DRUGS INVOLVED IN COVER UP AND CORUPTION
Alex and Natalia Dodov

More than seven mounts after the avalanche accident on March 13, that killed our son Nickolay Dodov and the guide Rob Liberman we came upon the autopsy report of Rob Liberman. The toxicology report on a heli ski guide found THC in his blood at higher than background levels and also found “Carboxy THC” in very high levels.
We could not believe that the leading guide of AH was under the influence of illegal substances, but what followed shook us even more. A State Trooper not investigating, a political borough closing their eyes, no one taking any action. Trooper Bentz concluded the case non criminal, Haines Borough did nothing.
Why Haines Borough did not investigate any further, after finding drugs involved in the accident? What Haines Borough was gaining from the Heli Company to cover up the use of drugs? Why Haines Borough didn’t request a copy of Alaska Heli Skiing Company drug screening policy? Why Haines Borough didn’t revoke AH Company permit after the accident and let the company continue with their operation and put other client’s lives at risk? Isn’t the toxicology report enough evidence of reckless and illegal behavior?

Now we understand why our compliant never was on the agenda for public hearing and was held with the Haines Borough attorney. Was Haines Borough afraid of committing gross negligence, not following their borough code of power and duties, singing and stamping five years outdated permit, or committing criminal negligence by letting Alaska Heli Company to continue operates after drug used was found?

We have sent a complaint to the Alaska State Department of Public Safety and Commissioner Joseph A. Masters against the State Trooper’s incident report. The report is hasty, uncompleted, with no details, not even mentioning the toxicology report of Rob Liberman.
We have send compliant to Alaska State Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and Commissioner Susan K. Bell against Haines Borough for not responding to our compliant, not investigating and taking action against the criminal negligence of Alaska Heli Company.
We are sending a compliant to the Alaska State Department of Natural Resources and commissioner Dan Sullivan against DNR for letting Alaska Heli Company to criminal trespass State Land for five years and did nothing.
According to DNR office’s representative; “Alaska Heli Company 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 Haines State Forest for commercial recreation purposes.”
We are sending all the complaints to the Governor Sean Parnell

Our son was opposed to drug use. He was an athlete with the highest regards for his body. Upon his death, we made the decision to offer life to others. Nickolay’s organs were donated. The process for such a matter involved a toxicity report. Nickolay’s test result was pure, allowing his organs to be used, giving life to others.

Complaint against state trooper Bentz incident report

From: Long, Angella T (DPS) (angella.long@alaska.gov)
Sent: Wed 11/21/12 5:47 PM
To: nataliadodova@hotmail.com (nataliadodova@hotmail.com)

Mr. and Mrs. Dodov,

The Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Office of Professional Standards is in receipt of your complaint involving Alaska State Trooper Joshua Bentz. The complaint has been forwarded to Captain Anthony April, the Detachment Commander who oversees the Haines post. Capt. April or someone from his command staff will be in contact with you regarding your complaint.

If you do not hear from someone or have questions regarding this complaint, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention.

A.T. Long
Supervisor
Office of Professional Standards
Department of Public Safety
5700 E Tudor Rd
Anchorage, AK 99507-1225
907-269-6055
dps.ops@alaska.gov

On a phone conversation with Lt. Dial, who was signed to investigate Trooper Bentz’s report, he stated that he had to go through hundreds of pages of support material he had received from us. He said that even though we have a formidable civil case, they can not reopen an investigation of the accident that killed two people. After the conversation we were left with the impression that Lt. Dial wasn’t aware of any detail regarding the accident.

DODOVS LETTER TO LT. RODNEY DIAL
To Lt. Rodney Dial,
12/12/12

We want to confirm and further address our conversation with you from yesterday, December 11th

In the beginning of our conversation you had told us that you agree Trooper Bentz should have called us right after the accident, but he did not have our phone number. The emergency contact was to Kalei Wodehouse, our son’s Nickolay Dodov fiancée. We asked why he did not call Kalei either. You agreed with us that Trooper Bentz should call Kalei. Next you told us that Rob Liberman’s autopsy and toxicology report was included in Trooper Bentz report. In our question why he did not send this report to our lawyers, you said that they should have subroena this information from Trooper Bentz. Why did Trooper Bentz hide this very important information from us?

We asked you if the findings in Rob Libermans toxicology report of THC with three times higher that the background levels considered criminal. You told us because Rob Liberman died in the avalanche, he can not be prosecuted and the company is not responsible either. You told us that the State of Alaska doesn’t require the heli ski company to have a drug screening policy. You told us that the percentage of THC shows that he had smoked two – three hours prior to the avalanche. But you also told us even if the guide had smoked right before the avalanche, “he could not have stopped the avalanche from the bottom of the run, where he was positioned”! We explained to you that Rob Libermanwas not positioned at the time of the avalanche at the bottom of the run. If you had read all the reports and the support material you would have a clearer picture.
When we asked you why Trooper Bentz did not request all the members involved in the search and rescue to be drug tested, you told us that the laws of Alaska require a warrant to do that. Why didn’t Trooper Bentzrequest a warrant for that purpose? We asked you if you had investigated this matter. You told us that you called AH and their response was they weren’t aware that Rob Liberman was taking THC!
Why didn’t either of you request the logs, radio communications from guide to guide and base that would give you exact information. The guides log AH Rob Liberman’s log where he should have information about the snow stability from the run prior to the avalanche, the radio communications between the guides and the base, and the pilot radio communications. Why didn’t you request all the time lines of the event?
Next you told us that you are attaching to Trooper Bentz report, Eric Stevens avalanche report of March 13 as we requested.
We asked why Trooper Bentz didn’t have all the eyewitnesses’ statements in his report. You said that according to Trooper Bentz all the statements were the same. If you had read our complaint to Haines Borough and the support material you would find this is not true. Has Trooper Bentz told you that after the accident the eyewitnesses were taken to their house, offered free burgers, and company members threatened to keep them quiet and guided them into signing papers.

You asked us if we knew that there is a detailed accident report by the National Forest! We were in shock of your question. This report was given only to us and our son’s fiancée. Our response to you was that we sent the report to you and yes of course we know about it. This report was written by a member of the company. It should be written by a independent third party expert. The report is inaccurate with false information. The accident happened on Alaska State land. Even though we sent you evidence that AH was criminally trespassing on state land for five years without a permit issued from DNR, you told us that DNR is the land agency responsible for taking action against the heli company. When we told that we have sent a complaint to DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, you went silent. We have told you and explained to you that AH has been operating for five years with an outdated permit, issued by Haines Borough, your response was that this is not in your authority either to investigate a political borough. When we told you that we sent a complaint to Commissioner Susan Bell against Haines Borough and AH you went silent. If you had read the permit issued by Haines Borough you would find that AH didn’t follow their safety policy, search and rescue protocols. You would also find that AH is required to file a detailed accident report within 72 hours to Haines Borough. No report was filed. If you had read our complaint to Haines Borough with our support material carefully, and Eric Stevens avalanche report for March 13, you would find the differences. We briefly explained to you
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” ……
We explained to you all the false information in the accident report. In the company accident report the avalanche condition of the day was rated “Moderate”. If you had read Eric Stevens report you would know that the avalanche rating for many days prior was “high “ and for March13 the rating was “Considerable” with an “upside down” snowpack with three distinct weak layers. The AH accident report says that no snow stability check was done.
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 CHOSE 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 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 that 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.
In trooper Bentz report it says that the bodies of the victims were excavated in 15 minutes, this is false information.
We told you that on November 27, AH sent an accident report to Colorado Avalanche National Center with the same false information. You told us that you are not aware of this.
From our conversation we were left with the impression that you don’t have any experience in the avalanche field.
Why didn’t you request the help of an independent third party expert from the Avalanche Centers in Alaska, as we requested in our complaint?
We explained to you that such an opinion from an expert is very helpful for your understanding of what went wrong that day. In your investigation you should have contacted the US Heli Association and requested to have the heli skiing operation standards, including their drug screening policy. You should have investigated if AH standards meets the Us Heli Ski safety/search and rescue standards.
In our complaint we requested to have the actual time line with the detailed report of our son’s health condition by the Haines clinic. We requested information from Haines of the time our son was taken by a paramedic car to the clinic in Haines, and the time he was in the clinic until the time he was transported to Seattle. Why didn’t you address this matter at all?
When we questioned you why our son was kept in a medical facility without advance life support that can not sustain severe injured patient for more that two hours, you answered that you don’t know and this is not in your jurisdiction.
We told you about the last article in CVN revealing that;
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 heliski association
When we asked you if this fraud is considered criminal, your answer was that you don’t believe mandatory training and supervision of experts would make a difference.
When we asked you if you knew that AH didn’t file an employed death detail report with the State of Alaska, but rather choose to pay $750 fine, you did not know that you didn’t want to comment.
At the end of our conversation we were left with the impression that you are looking forward for receiving the Go Pro footage evidence, and you were going to contact a independent third party avalanche expert. We told you that we have two doctors opinions on Rob Libermans toxicology report that will be sent to you. Instead of waiting for our information and the review from that independent party, (in order to revaluate our case), after our conversation you called CVN and told them that you informed us your investigation is completed and that the state Trooper Bentz report would not be reopened. You did not tell us your intention to not reopen the case.
We are not satisfied with your decision.
A professional guiding company letting his leading guide to work with his clients under influence of illegal substance three time higher than the normal background limit , a company operating with five years outdated permit, a company not following safety search and rescue protocols, a company posting fraudulent information on their web site to attract clients, a company criminally trespassing state land without permit.
According to you all of the above is considered non criminal!!!
Trying to find the truth after our son was killed in the avalanche on March 13, we have been banging our heads in wall of corruption and cover ups.
This is not a true investigation.
We are sending this to your superiors, to the Governor of Alaska, to the Federal Authorities, CVN, CNN.
Sincerely Natalia and Alex Dodov

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
TROOPERS WON’T REVISIT HELI-SKI PROBE
December 13, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 50 | View PDF
By Karen Garcia

Alaska State Troopers will not reopen an investigation into the heli-ski accident that killed two people in Haines last spring, Lt. Rodney Dial said this week.
Natalia and Alex Dodov filed an employee conduct complaint in mid-November against Trooper Josh Bentz, who conducted the investigation into the deaths of Alaska Heliskiing client Nikolay Dodov and guide Rob Liberman. The Dodovs voiced criticism of perceived flaws in Bentz’s investigation and requested troopers reopen the case.
Dial spoke to the Dodovs Monday and explained that while some of their concerns – such as Liberman’s autopsy indicating recent marijuana use – might be legitimately raised in civil court, the company could not be held responsible criminally.
If Liberman survived, he could potentially be held criminally liable, but the company is not criminally liable by extension, Dial said. “The death investigation looked into whether there was criminal conduct involved in the death of the two individuals and the short answer is there wasn’t.”
The Dodovs also claimed Alaska Heliskiing did not have the proper permits to be on the land where the accident happened. Again, Dial said, this would be a civil issue; to be a criminal issue, the presence or absence of permits would have to have directly affected the outcome of the accident.
“It’s not germane to the death investigation itself. I would have to be able to show a linking between having the right permit or not having the right permit and whether it would have affected the outcome here,” Dial said.
The Dodovs also asked why the autopsy report was not included in the report, and why all eyewitness statements were not included. Dial said the autopsy report is included in the official report, but it was not included in the report provided to the Dodovs because troopers do not release medical records. Dial said the Dodovs’ lawyer could try to subpoena the autopsy results.
Dial also said Bentz did interview all eyewitnesses, a fact stated in the report. Bentz condensed three eyewitness statements into one, though, because all three made very similar reports, Dial said.
The Dodovs said they are working with their lawyer in California and intend to file a wrongful death suit against Alaska Heliskiing.
“We didn’t want to file a lawsuit. We just wanted the truth, but then we started to be showered with lies,” Natalia Dodov said.
Alex Dodov said he believes there is a two-year statute of limitations in filing a civil suit.
Dial said he added some information to the report at the request of the Dodovs, including an accident report recently provided to the Colorado Avalanche Center by Alaska Heliskiing. The Dodovs claim the report is incomplete and falsified.
Dial said he does not foresee the case being reopened, although he would accept any additional information the Dodovs might want to provide.
“At this point, unless we receive new evidence, the case is closed. And quite honestly, I just don’t see that happening at this point. We would have to show there was intent on behalf of this company to put people in a position that would result in serious injury or death. And we just can’t make that connection,” Dial said.

We were promised by the Mayor’s office, Haines Borough manager, that there would be an investigation in place. They excused themselves based on Trooper Bentz’s accident report, conclusion: non criminal.

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
December 6, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 49
MAYOR SEEKS TIME RESPONDING TO DODOVS

Borough officials are not insensitive to the grief experienced by the Dodov and Liberman families and friends in the loss of Nicolay Dodov and Rob Liberman. Neither are we ignoring the requests for an official response to take action or consider changing how we regulate the heli-ski industry in the borough. The borough is in receipt of the Alaska State Trooper’s final report and conclusion of the matter as non-criminal; prior to any action the borough may take, we want to gain comfort in understanding what that means. Also prior to making any decisions we are reviewing recommendations offered by our attorney, Brooks Chandler. Knowing the best course of action requires a commitment to truth, fairness, and compassion. It will also require time. Thank you for your patience.
Stephanie Scott
Mayor, Haines Borough

DODOV’S LETTER TO THE HAINES MAYOR
Hi Stephanie Scott,
12/24/2012

By now we have learned that it is not in your interest to open an investigation against AH to find the truth about our son’s death. You are more concerned how to have more heli ski visitors with their valuable dollars. Our son paid the same valuable dollars to AH placing his life in the hands of a so called professional guiding business. AH claims on their web site to have the highest safety standards, by now we know that to be false.
The Mayors office, Haines Borough, and Law Enforcement Authorities are more concerned about the profits of the town, then discovering the truth. They (you) should be seeking to change regulations, insuring permit standards are adequate and enforceable, implementing drug and alcohol policies, establishing search and rescue efforts in Haines, and having advanced life support in the medical clinic. The Law Enforcement authority should be more aware of the criminal activity in your town for the safety of all visitors. If all the authorities in Haines were doing their jobs, our tragedy could have been prevented.
We have evidence that AH hires illegal workers, breaks DNR regulations by criminally trespassing on Alaska State land without a permit, dumping jet fuel waste in the rivers, polluting Alaska state land, and breaking Federal Aviation Administration regulations. We have evidence that AH guides were operating under the influence of THC. We have evidence that staff members have been smoking marijuana regularly in a shack on the premises of the company. Why weren’t Haines authorities aware of any of this?
We have evidence that Haines Borough issued AH an outdated permit. The owner of AH resists giving GPS data, due to out of bounds use. Instead of holding AH accountable for their criminal trespassing, the borough supports AH and lets them continue with their operation.
We have evidence from the morning meeting of AH on March 13 before the avalanche accident of the company’s awareness of the unstable dangerous snow condition. Two avalanche forecasts were given, (with and without wind) to the heli guides, by leading guide Rob Liberman. Rob was aware of surface hoar growth the day before. He says if wind was deposited on that layer – it would be a reactive layer.
We have evidence that explains the slow and inadequate search and rescue response.
We have evidence of terrified guides after the accident admitting the mistakes they made and left AH for good.
The owner of the company wanted to buy all this evidence for a substantial amount of money with a lot of zeros. It wasn’t for sale because the truth should come out.
We are attaching the exchange of emails proving Sean Brownells attempted manipulation to keep the story from coming out.
We are sending to you an album with photos of our son and us before the tragic accident.
We have learned from Larry and Chetra’s Williamson similar experience, through the tragic loss of their son, that they were also denied a proper investigation. That Haines Borough remained unaccountable, unconcerned, and with no intention of change to prevent another tragedy.
From their story we have confirmed that corruption and cover up are deep in the roots of the mayor’s office. As you know the family has filed a wrongful death claim.
We will pursue our Son’s justice, the truth will come out.

Natalia and Alex Dodov

Heliskiing is a big part of the Haines economy. Haines Borough was able to get around our allegations by using their attorney to write a 15 pages memorandum.

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
February 7, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 5 | View PDF
BOROUGH OKs PERMIT FOR ALASKA HELISKIING
By Karen Garcia

Alaska Heliskiing broke state law, Haines Borough code and its own safety plan during a season that included the deaths of a client and guide, but its violations “do not rise to a level of ‘substantial noncompliance’” for revoking the company’s tour permit, clerk Julie Cozzi ruled this week.
“I do not view commercial tour permits as privileges that can be taken away at any time for any single violation of law or permit conditions. Rather, a permit is like a piece of property. The borough should proceed very carefully before this property is taken away,” Cozzi said in her decision.
“A single accident, even one that results in a customer death and even one that may have resulted from failures of the permittee to meet standards for safe operations, will not automatically result in denial of a permit renewal application,” Cozzi said.
The Haines Borough on Monday renewed commercial heli-ski tour permits for Alaska Heliskiing, Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures and Alaska Mountain Guides for the 2013 season. Manager Mark Earnest is expected to determine allocations of skier days later this week.
Natalia Dodov, mother of an Alaska Heliskiing client killed during a March 13 avalanche, said she was left “speechless” and “disturbed” by Cozzi’s decision to renew the permit. Guide Rob Liberman also died.
In a 15-page memo outlining her reasoning, Cozzi said Alaska Heliskiing failed to obtain a permit for use of state lands over multiple years of operation, failed to follow operating and safety plan accident reporting, failed to submit a mutual aid agreement, failed to file a report of employee death with the State of Alaska, twice flew out of bounds and posted inaccurate and misleading information on its website relating to guide certification and company safety standards.
The violations provided “a potential basis for permit denial,” Cozzi said. “Alaska Heliskiing is warned that the above past conduct will be considered in any permit renewal in 2014 and that continuing violations… may result in permit suspension or revocation…”
When asked what would constitute “substantial noncompliance,” Cozzi said she determines that on a case-by-case basis and could not speculate, but pointed to her denial of Dave Button’s Eco Orca Tours permit renewal application in 2005.
“It was sheer volume with Dave Button. There were a lot of very serious things. I’m not saying a death is not serious, but it’s not against the law to have an avalanche on your watch,” Cozzi said in an interview.
Button’s permit denial stemmed from 85 customer complaints over a five-year period, a specific warning issued to the company the year prior to come into compliance with permit conditions, and several other factors. “My decision is consistent with the action taken with Mr. Button,” Cozzi wrote.
Mayor Stephanie Scott agreed the government must be very careful in exercising due process when taking away a piece of property.
“The rationale that I learned from her analogy to the Dave Button case is that the violations resulting in the removal of a property right had to be repeated and over time. Certainly this was a notch in the belt on the road to revocation (for Alaska Heliskiing), but maybe not the final nail in that path,” Scott said.
Natalia Dodov said borough officials were playing her family for fools. “She excused the company. Whatever they did, it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t see any risk for the clients and their safety… She admitted the things they did wrong, but then she excused them and gave them the permit anyway.”
In the memo, Cozzi identified and addressed 12 complaints leveled by the Dodov family, who alleged various deficiencies in Alaska Heliskiing’s operations related to the accident. Though Cozzi confirmed the validity of several of the complaints, the rest she either found unwarranted or lacking in sufficient substantiation.
The Dodovs took issue with specific aspects of Cozzi’s memo, including her conclusion that it was “unlikely” that Alaska Heliskiing falsified an avalanche report in an attempt to retroactively downplay the avalanche risk on the day of the accident.
The Dodovs also did not think Cozzi adequately addressed the issue of the THC found in deceased guide Rob Liberman’s blood during his autopsy. Cozzi said the borough requested the autopsy report, but the request was denied. (The state releases such reports only to family members and police agencies.)
The Dodovs said they would meet with their lawyer Wednesday morning to discuss options.
Manager Earnest can allocate up to 2,600 skier days between the three companies. Alaska Heliskiing has requested 1,400 days, SEABA has requested 1,000, and AMG has requested 450.
Earnest said Alaska Heliskiing’s safety record and permit violations could affect how many skier days the company is allotted. Earnest said decisions regarding permit renewal and skier day allocation need to be based on objective facts, not gut reactions to tragic accidents.
“What is the real issue here, not the emotional issue? What are the facts? You have to base your decision, albeit it’s a subjective decision, but it has to be based on some objectivity. It can’t be done on emotion or perception or feelings,” Earnest said.
Earnest said the memo explaining the renewal decision “certainly had a review and a lot of input from the borough attorney,” Brooks Chandler.
Cozzi said she prepared the final draft of the memo, but said she worked with Chandler “quite a bit” in composing it.
Earnest said Chandler has not yet sent an invoice for his January work on the Alaska Heliskiing permit decision.
Cozzi’s approval of the Alaska Helikskiing permit is conditional on the company receiving permission to operate on state lands.
David Kelly, regional manager of the Southeast office of DNR’s Division of Mining, Land and Water said the agency is not interested in punishing companies for past noncompliance. “We tend to work with people to bring them into compliance. Stuff happens. We try to help them rather than hinder them.”
Cozzi said she feels confident in her decision to renew Alaska Heliskiing’s permit, but that she is “by no means happy that this decision falls to the borough clerk.”
“I’m always reluctant when I have to make a decision like that. And this was not an easy decision for me to make. But with my whole heart I do not believe that everything taken together rose to the level of denying a permit,” Cozzi said.

ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWSPublished:February 18, 2013
HAINES BOROUGH RENEWS HELISKIING PERMIT FOR COMPANY THAT BROKE LAW
Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2013/02/11/2785332/haines-borough-renews-heliski.html#storylink=cpy

Haines heliski business penalized over safety record

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2013/02/18/2793924/haines-heliski-business-penalized.html#storylink=cpy
Alaska Heliskiing, the Haines outfitter whose permit was renewed recently despite having broken local and state laws and its own safety plan and having lost a guide and client to an avalanche last year, has had its allotted “skier days” cut 25 percent for the season, reports the Chilkat Valley News. The decision was “based on safety record,” Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest said. Neither the company nor the dead client’s mother are happy with the decision.
Sean Brownell, co-owner of Alaska Heliskiing, wrote in an email to the CVN that he was displeased with Earnest’s decision but will not appeal it.
“I don’t agree with the decision and think it’s unfair, but if it is the will of the public and that is what the borough has decided for me, I will graciously accept what I’ve been given and hope for the best,” Brownell wrote.
Natalia Dodov, whose son died in the 2012 avalanche, said the borough penalty does nothing to address underlying safety issues in the Haines heliski industry.
“How many accidents or deaths would (the borough) need before they implemented changes more than a penalty in terms of skier days? Will someone ever change something? Try to change something? We really want improved safety standards,” Dodov said in an interview.
Read more at the Chilkat Valley News: Alaska Heliskiing loses 350 skier days

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2013/02/18/2793924/haines-heliski-business-penalized.html#storylink=cpy

Some lines from 15 pages MEMORANDUM
February 1, 2013
From: Julie Cozzi
Borough Clerk
To: Alaska Helisking LLC
REVIEW OF REQUIREMENTS AND
COMPLAINT OF
PERMIT VIOLATIONS AND UNSAFE OPERATIONS

The status of Alaska Heliskiing commercial heliskiing permit has generated significant interest within and beyond the community. This interest has caused me to set fort in some detail the process and standards I employed as the person responsible to make initial decisions on request to renew commercial ski tour permits.

Alaska Heliskiing’s commercial operations in 2012 generated a significant complaint
related to the March 13, 2012 death of an Alaska Heliskiing guide and an Alaska Heliskiing customer. Therefore, in addition to the general process above, I also reviewed specific allegations of improper business practices which had been communicated to the Borough via electronic mail.

A single accident, even one that results in a customer death and even one that may have resulted from failures of the permittee to meet standards for safe operations, will not automatically result in denial of a permit renewal application.

Here is how I reached the conclusion to approve the application for a permit renewal.
The application for renewing AH permit was originally received on December 31, 2012 did not include all the required materials. But by January 16, all required materials had been submitted. This included a safety and operations plan I did look at the content of the safety plan. Even though I am no expert in this area it appears to me to be a thorough plan with substantial thought behind it.
The application requirement is to have a plan. The Borough has not decided to dictate
minimum standards for the safety plan beyond identification of certain topics which must be addressed in the plan. Alaska Heliskiing has a plan. It includes discussion of all required topics.

I asked the Chief of Police to review the application materials. The Chief informed me
that he was not aware of any violation of Borough ordinances by Alaska Heliskiing that would justify denying the application. I was not aware of any violations of federal law and the customer complaint did not allege any federal law violations. The harbormaster and tourism director also did not indicate any concerns with a permit renewal. Alaska Heliskiing is not delinquent in payment of any Borough taxes.

I determined there was a state law violation. Permit condition 12 required Alaska Heliskiing to “obtain authorizations” for use of State land. Alaska Heliskiing failed to properly obtain State of Alaska authorizations for use of state land for its operations in 2012. This failure continued for several years before 2012.
I assume it will be remedied in 2013. In particular, Alaska Heliskiing had failed to properly register to use the Haines State Forest for its commercial activities and may have (depending on level of use and interpretation of the state regulation) failed to obtain a required state permit for use of state land. My understanding was that Alaska Heliskiing was not required to obtain a state permit if its operations were limited to no more than 11 persons per day on state land.
It is unclear to me if the dividing line is based on an average over the entire year, an
average over any shorter period of time or if a single instance of more than 11 customers triggers the permit requirement.
The State has not brought charges based on this violation and has indicated they do not plan to do so unless Alaska Heliskiing disregards notices to comply with the permit and registration requirements in the future. From this, I conclude that the State does not consider the failure to register to obtain a permit in 2012 to be a significant violation of state law but perhaps would be if the failure continues in 2013.
Rather than deny the permit renewal application as a result of past state regulation violations, this borough permit renewal is conditioned on Alaska Heliskiing obtaining a state permit. If Alaska Heliskiing does not obtain a state permit, they are not authorized to conduct commercial ski tours.

I have also examined allegations based on errors on the Alaska Heliskiing website.
Information regarding Alaska Heliskiing belonging to an organization called Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association appeared on the Alaska Heliskiing website. This was inaccurate. It has been removed. This Association does not appear to have ever been officially created.
This is relevant because the Borough Code prohibits tour companies from “unfair
competitive practices”. Posting inaccurate or misleading claims on a company website could be considered an “unfair competitive practice” by state law (AS 45.50.471) lists This would likely be found to be a violation of AS 45.50.471 since it would have “a capacity or tendency to deceive”. Even more significantly, the website references claimed the non-existent association “set strict safety standards” and that Alaska Heliskiing was required to have its own standards “reviewed” by this non-existent Association. In my opinion, the actual impact on potential customers of such a misrepresentation is possibly significant. I also believe the inaccurate statements were specifically intended to attract customers based on false claims directly related
to safety. This means the statements on the website were an “unfair competitive practice” as that phrase is used in HBC 5.04.080(F). The fact the information has been removed is the minimum appropriate corrective action.

Alaska Heliskiing’s own operations plan indicated accidents would be reported to the Borough in 72 hours. Alaska Heliskiing failed to promptly report the March 13 accident to the Borough other than a one sentence statement in the biweekly report which was not filed with the Borough until March 26.
The accident report referenced in the operations plan was not filed with the Borough until
December 31, 2012. I believe not following through their own operation and safety plan is not exactly the same as a permit condition violation but is properly considered in deciding whether to renew a commercial ski tour permit.

Permit condition 13 requires submission of a mutual aid agreement. This was not
submitted.

I have also considered the customer complaint submitted to the Borough. The complaint was contained in a series of communications and, in summary, alleged the following deficiencies in Alaska Heliskiing operations related to the March 12, 2012 accident:

As indicated above, I do consider failures to follow the field operations and safety plan to
be a potential basis for revocation, suspension or failure to renew a permit. But because
operations and safety plan procedures are self-imposed by the permittee rather than minimum standards that have been set by the Borough Assembly, in my mind deviations from the safety or operations plan should be less likely to result in revocation, suspension or non-renewal of a commercial ski tour permit. If I considered failures to follow safety plans as identical to a violation of a permit condition, heliskiing operators would have an incentive to submit less rigorous safety plans in order to avoid permit consequences. This is not a good idea and would possibly place customers at greater risk.

I have reviewed the 2012 operations plan safety requirements to determine if any of the allegations would, if true, be a failure to follow the Alaska Heliskiing operations plan. But there are limits to my own experience and capability to evaluate whether conduct met the plan requirements. In many instances this in not an appropriate determination for the Borough Clerk to make. In other instances (such as the plan’s accident reporting requirement) this is a very simple determination to make.

There is no evidence Alaska Heliskiing guides on March 13 ignored avalanche warning
signs, the Snow Safety Director or weather reports. Clearly skiing was not called off after the first run but I am not able to evaluate whether conditions exhibited warning signs ignored by the Alaska Heliskiing guides.

With regard to allegation number 5, the accident report indicates Mr. Dodov was
uncovered at 11:00 a.m. after being buried 20-30 minutes. The accident report indicates he was transported to “waiting EMS” at “33 mile” which is the base for Alaska Heliskiing operations. From there he was transported to the clinic. I am not qualified to evaluate if direct transport to the clinic should have occurred rather than transport to the Alaska Heliskiing base.

With regard to allegation number 6 that is failure to warn clients of dangerous snow conditions. Customers are required to sign forms indicating they are aware of and accept the risks. I am not qualified to determine if a more specific warning should have been provided on March 13.

Allegation 8 is based on what is supposedly in an autopsy report (high levels of THC). The Borough requested but was denied the autopsy report. The Alaska Heliskiing 2012 safety plan did not specifically prohibit drug use by Alaska Heliskiing guides. It does require guides to “posses a character which shows sound judgment and temperament”. Working while under the influence of drugs would obviously not be consistent with sound judgment.

Allegations 9, 10 and 12 are correct. I have discussed the use of State land. The accident
report was late. It has been reviewed as part of the permit renewal process. The failure to file a worker’s compensation report has resulted in a state fine. The amount of the fine suggests the State treats this as a relatively minor offense. The State is not proposing to deny Alaska Heliskiing a business license as a result of this violation. I do not think it rises to the level of “substantial noncompliance” justifying denial of the renewal application.

In summary, there are the following permit violations, operating and safety plan
violations and state law violations:

1. Failure to obtain a permit for use of state lands over multiple years of operation.
2. Failure to follow operating and safety plan accident reporting.
3. Two out of bounds incidents for which a fine was levied and paid.
4. Failure to submit a mutual aid agreement.
5. Failure to file report of employee death with State of Alaska for which a fine was
levied and paid.
6. Posting inaccurate and misleading information on company website directly relating
to guide certifications and company safety standards.

Additionally, there are potential problems that I am either not qualified to pass judgment on or feel have not been proven to the degree that justifies denial of the permit renewal application. These are:

7. Possible failures to follow additional requirements of operating plan requiring
exercise of judgment as to safety of skiing prior to a run and post-accident procedures
(failure to dig test pit or do ski test, failure to transport accident victim directly to
clinic).
8. Possibility that company employee was guiding customers while under the influence
of marijuana.

The established violations do provide a potential basis for denial of the permit renewal
application. But they do not rise to the level of “substantial noncompliance” in my judgment justifying permit revocation in the name of safety of customers or the public.. Alaska Heliskiing is warned that the above past conduct will be considered in any permit renewal for 2014 and that continuing violations of reporting requirements, failing to follow Alaska Heliskiing’s own operation and safety plan or any other permit violations may result in permit suspension or revocation during the 2013 season in a failure to renew Alaska Heliskiing’s commercial tour permit in 2014.

MEMORANDUM TO ALASKA HELISKIING LLC 2013 COMMERCIAL SKI TOUR PERMIT RENEWAL

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
February 14, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 6 | View PDF
ALASKA HELISKIING LOSES 350 SKIER DAYS
By Karen Garcia

Citing Alaska Heliskiing’s 2012 safety record, Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest cut the company’s skier-day allocation by 25 percent for the 2013 season.
Earnest this week allocated 1,050 skier days to the guide company, 350 fewer than the company’s request of 1,400. “It was based on safety record. And I made a determination I was not going to allocate the requested amount for that reason,” he said.
Alaska Heliskiing broke state law, borough code and its own safety plan during a 2012 season that included the deaths of a client and guide.
Sean Brownell, co-owner of Alaska Heliskiing, wrote in an email to the CVN that he was displeased with Earnest’s decision but will not appeal it.
“I don’t agree with the decision and think it’s unfair, but if it is the will of the public and that is what the borough has decided for me, I will graciously accept what I’ve been given and hope for the best,” Brownell wrote.
Brownell said his initial reaction was to appeal the decision, but said he changed his mind after further consideration.
“After some reflection, I have decided it would be more prudent to be grateful and respect the decision that has been made, and I hope that by doing so I can begin to regain the respect of those who have condemned me. I have some major concerns for the safety of the participants that heli-ski in Haines, and the only way I can someday be heard and taken seriously is if I can regain the respect I once had,” Brownell wrote.
Natalia Dodov, mother of the Alaska Heliskiing client who died in an avalanche last year, said a penalty of 350 skier days does not satisfy her demand for real change in industry standards here.
“How many accidents or deaths would (the borough) need before they implemented changes more than a penalty in terms of skier days? Will someone ever change something? Try to change something? We really want improved safety standards,” Dodov said in an interview.
Earnest this week also fulfilled the 1,000-day request of Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) and the 450-day request of Alaska Mountain Guides (AMG).
As 2,850 days were requested between the three companies – 250 days more than the borough’s 2,600 seasonal cap – Earnest decided to fulfill the requests of SEABA and AMG and take the difference out of Alaska Heliskiing’s request, he said.
“It could have been 1,000, it could have been 700, it could have been 1,200. But that was where I felt was an appropriate number and made the decision at that level,” Earnest said. The decision was “reasonable and justifiable,” he added.
Earnest also left 100 days unallocated. The remaining 100 days remain up for grabs to any of the three companies wishing to apply for them during the 2013 season. Decisions to allocate additional skier days is based on in-season performance and a demonstrated need for additional days, Earnest said.
In 2012, Alaska Heliskiing received all of its 1,450 requested days and obtained an additional 40 days after applying for more later in the season. SEABA received 870 of its requested 1,000 days last year, and AMG got all of its 200 requested days.
Code stipulates that in addition to safety record, the manager may consider the economic impact of the allocation on the company, the interests of the borough in the promotion of tourism, and several other factors when determining skier day allocation.

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
March 21, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 11 | View PDF
HELI-SKIING LEGAL FEES: $3500

The Haines Borough attorney billed the borough more than $3,500 in January for issues related to heli-skiing, chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart said this week.
Brooks Chandler billed the borough for 17 hours of work – $3,570 – under the “heli-skiing” category on his January invoice. The borough renewed commercial tour permits in January for three local heli-skiing companies, including Alaska Heliskiing.
Clerk Julie Cozzi issued a 15-page memo outlining her reasoning behind the controversial decision to give Alaska Heliskiing a permit following its breaches of state law, borough code, and the company’s own safety plan during the 2012 season. An Alaska Heliskiing client and guide also died in 2012.
Borough manager Mark Earnest said while the memo “was Cozzi’s work, it was reviewed by the attorney.” The memo “certainly had a review and a lot of input from the borough attorney,” he said.
Cozzi said she “worked with (Chandler) quite a bit,” but that she prepared the final version after on-going back-and-forth communications between the two.
“I couldn’t even come close to guessing what percentage is this, or when did this happen,” Cozzi said when asked how much of the memo Chandler was responsible for. “I did what I had to do, and I utilized another borough officer – the borough attorney. We had lots of conversations. I proposed language; he proposed language.” Continue reading