Dodovs say they’re ending heli-ski suit
Chilkat Valley News
By Karen Garcia
Parents of an Alaska Heliskiing client who died in a 2012 avalanche said this week they are dropping their civil suit against the company.Natalia and Alex Dodov filed the suit in state court in February 2014, claiming Alaska Heliskiing “sought profit above safety” and failed to avoid the fatal avalanche that killed their son.The case was moved to federal district court in July.
Nick Dodov, 26, died in a Takhin Ridge avalanche while snowboarding with Alaska Heliskiing in March 2012. Company guide Rob Liberman, 35, of Telluride, Colo., also died in the accident.Natalia Dodov said she and her husband dropped the lawsuit because it wasn’t going to result in what they wanted: more rigorous and enforceable safety regulations in the largely unregulated heli-skiing industry.
Dodov said the case devolved into discussions of a settlement between her lawyer, Juneau-based attorney Mark Choate, and lawyers from Alaska Heliskiing’s insurance company. “The terms of the settlement are against our will. It only supports the insurance company to release every party involved from their responsibility,” Dodov said.“We were never after money or anything like that,” Dodov said. “We never wanted to settle this and release them from responsibility and just get money.”In September, the Dodovs sent an email to Choate telling him they weren’t interested in a settlement.
“We sued Alaska Heliskiing because we thought that it would bring to light Alaska Heliskiing’s unsafe practices which led to our son’s death and help bring much-needed safety regulations to the heli-skiing industry. We decided to drop the case when we and our lawyer disagreed about the direction of the case and we were asked to sign a settlement agreement that went against all our principles and felt to us as if we were selling out our son,” the Dodovs said in an email this week.
According to court documents, Choate said he wrote to the Dodovs on Jan. 6 and told them he could no longer represent them because of a “breakdown in communications” between his office and the Dodovs.Choate said the Dodovs needed to find themselves new legal counsel, and if he didn’t hear from them by Jan. 27, he would move to withdraw himself from the case.Choate said he sent the letter to the email address they successfully used for prior communications. He also sent the letter via mail. “I’ve heard nothing from them and cannot continue to represent them given this breakdown in communications,” he told the court.He moved to withdraw himself on Feb. 4, and the judge granted the withdrawal.
Natalia Dodov said Choate removed himself because she and her husband weren’t interested in signing the settlement. On Jan. 27, Dodov sent Choate an email telling him they wanted the case dismissed.Choate did not return calls for comment. Dodov said she hasn’t heard back from him regarding her Jan. 27 email requesting the case’s dismissal.The Dodovs don’t intend to hire a new lawyer. Dodov said she is not upset with Choate or her legal representation. “It’s all about the system. It’s nothing against the lawyer.”Dodov said the lawsuit was an avenue toward getting the heli-skiing industry to strengthen its safety standards.
The couple also launched a backcountry ski safety program and has aggressively pursued stiffer heli-skiing laws and permitting in discussions with the Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Occupational Safety and Health department, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. senators and congressmen.“This was another way we tried,” Dodov said.Natalia Dodov said she was naive to think that filing a lawsuit would result in a more complete investigation of Alaska Heliskiing’s operations and bring focus to heli-ski safety standards.
The Dodovs claimed Alaska Heliskiing’s negligence led to their son’s death and that the company failed to properly assess snow conditions, failed to make a full disclosure of risk, marketed efforts emphasizing affordability (implying cost-cutting at the risk of safety), failed to exercise judgment required of a competent guide, failed to provide a second guide, failed to timely execute post-accident procedures and inadequately trained clients in avalanche search techniques.Tim Lamb, an Anchorage-based attorney for Alaska Heliskiing, said he hoped the case would be dismissed but that he couldn’t address details because it’s officially active.“It’s truly sad. My heart goes out to the Dodovs, as does Alaska Heliskiing’s. For everyone involved, it’s a tragedy,” Lamb said.
LABOR STANDARDS AND SAFETY DIVISION
Occupational Safety and Health
3301 Eagle Street, Suite 305
Anchorage, Alaska 99503-4149
Toll free: 800.770.4940
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:
firstname.lastname@example.org (Use subject line: Heli-skiing Krystyna Markiewicz)
Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development
Occupational Safety and Health Section
Attn: Krystyna Markiewicz
3301 Eagle Street, Suite 305
Anchorage, AK 99503
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
click on the link to see the actual AKOSH notice
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
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 consist of high level mandatory statements
Standards consist of specific low level specific mandatory controls
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
To see the full article in Chilkat Valley News click on the link below
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.
|The Alaskan Way http://vimeo.com/skithehimalayas/the…|
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
SEABA agrees to pay $21K to BLM
by Tom Morphet
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
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
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
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
From Heather Lende’s blog, Haines, Alaska resident;
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
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 (email@example.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); firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Amdur, Neil; Peterson, James (Feinstein); Dial, Rodney L (DPS); Sullivan, Daniel S (DNR); firstname.lastname@example.org; 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
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
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.
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.
We filed a petition with DNR to deny a state land permit to Alaska Heliskiing LLC for operating for five years without a permit.
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.
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.