All heliski permits should be issued and administered by an independent 3rd party. This party should be unified with the top experts in the field and a government body to set the industry mandatory standards & policies.
The most respected and experienced guides input should be included for this government standardization process.
Safety plans, Search and Rescue protocols must be standardized for all of the Commercial Heliskiing Operators in US and must be monitored and enforced by a Federal Authority.
Safety plans, search and rescue protocols must be submitted to the US Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Liability release forms must have a clear understanding to hold the heliskiing operator responsible in case of gross negligence and criminal negligence, as well as clients must have a clear understanding of the inherent risks.
All the Commercial heliskiing operations in the US must introduce their Heli-Ski clients to the existing weather pattern, snow pack and how it relates to the surrounding mountains. Clients must be advised regarding the possible dangers.
All Commercial heliskiing operators in the US must collect, observe and discuss weather, snow reports and avalanche conditions from all sources available each day. All Heli-Ski clients must be involved in the discussions of: weather, snow reports and avalanche conditions. Heli-Ski Clients will be part of the discussions and in the decision making of each day before they sign the daily release forms.
Every Heli-Ski client should be required to have at minimum a Level I Avalanche course completed and Wilderness First Aid Class
All the guides and the Heli-Ski clients must wear & use the latest safety equipment; Air backpack and breathing device AvaLung.
All guides must check the readiness of each Heli-Ski client’s safety devices before leaving the operations base and before each run.
Snow observation i.e. a test pit and ski cutting must be required on every exposure. The Heli-Ski clients must be informed of the result before they are allowed to ski the run.
Two guides must be required for each group of Heli-Ski clients for all Commercial heliskiing operations in the US. One of the guides must ski the chosen terrain before all of the clients. One guide must wait at the top and ski down after the last Heli-Ski client completes his or her’s run.
When an avalanche occurs every guide and Heli-Ski client available must participate in the search and rescue mission.
Search and Rescue Centers must be establish in a central location where heliskiing operations are present. Each Heli-Ski Operation must contribute to it and participate in case of emergency.
All Commercial Heliskiing operations in the US must have adequate numbers of helicopters to respond in a timely manner when an emergency or a search and rescue occurs.
Every injured Heli-Ski Client or a Guide must be transported to the nearest hospital.
All Commercial Heliskiing Guides must participate in on-going training. All Commercial Heliskiing Guides must practice Avalanche Safety, Search and Rescue procedures and protocol & First Aid drills throughout the Heli-Ski season.
Every new Heli-Ski Guide must apprentice and train for a minimum of two years before he or she is allowed to guide & lead clients.
All Commercial Heliskiing Guides must carry a memo log, and complete all snow observation results each day. Radio communication must be available to all clients, guides and the base of the Heliskiing Operation.
Radio communication must be recorded and GPS data available in case of accident.
ZERO tolerance of drugs and alcohol.
All Commercial Heliskiing Operators in the US must have a drug screening policy for their employees.
A standardized code of conduct should be adopted by Heli-Ski Operators in regards to the Heli-Ski Client, i.e. consumption of drugs or alcohol while clients of a Heli-Ski Operator.
All Commercial Heli-Ski operators must be responsible for the information on their websites and printed materials. All information must be true, accurate and up to date.
We wish to all the clients and guides heli-skiing in the US many happy and safe spectacular days.
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Volume XLIV Number 11 Thursday, March 20, 2014
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
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
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
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
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
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, email@example.com wrote:
Name: Natalia and Alex Dodov
Phone: 209 753 2828
Message: To Paul Butler
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
Thank you very much
Natalia and Alex Dodov
North Cascade Heli (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.
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
From Kevin Quinn
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.
US HELISKIING ASSOSIATION RESPONSE TO US
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.
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.
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, 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.
From: Long, Angella T (DPS) (email@example.com)
Sent: Wed 11/21/12 5:47 PM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (email@example.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.
Office of Professional Standards
Department of Public Safety
5700 E Tudor Rd
Anchorage, AK 99507-1225
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,
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.
Mayor, Haines Borough
DODOV’S LETTER TO THE HAINES MAYOR
Hi Stephanie Scott,
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
Some lines from 15 pages MEMORANDUM
February 1, 2013
From: Julie Cozzi
To: Alaska Helisking LLC
REVIEW OF REQUIREMENTS AND
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
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
8. Possibility that company employee was guiding customers while under the influence
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.
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
Nick was born free on February 15/1986 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He lived all his life free and he left this world free.
Every winter on Nick’s Birthday would always snow a lot. We were very young when we had Nick, Natalia was 17 and Alex was 22. Our life back in Bulgaria was spent between camping by the Black Sea every summer and skiing the mountains in the winter. At the beach Nick, being two and a half years old and butt naked was making friends with the whole campground.
At three and a half we put Nick on a pair of
skis. By the age of six and half he was skiing by himself the whole mountains.
At the age of eight he converted to snowboarding and ever since he dedicated his life to snowboarding.
Three years ago after surgery to repair a torn ACL Nick, being in pain and grumpy…
View original post 303 more words
We have spent endless hours investigating the circumstances of our son’s death.
Here is a summary of our investigation:
Winter season 2011/2012 had a record snowfall with high rated avalanche danger for Alaska. There was 3-5 feet of new accumulated snow the day prior to the avalanche incident. Wind storm the night prior to the avalanche had changed the snow pack. According to eyewitness’s statement, five days of storm meant “no economy that week” for Guide Company Alaska Helisking LLC. (AH). On March 13, 2012, the company ignored the dangerous conditions, and an urge to make money pushed the guides and the clients to go ski.
On the morning of the avalanche incident, the Haines Avalanche Information Center recorded an avalanche warning rating of : Considerable; Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential. Snow condition when natural avalanches are possible; Human triggered avalanche likely. Haines Avalanche Information Center reports “This very heavy new load fell atop a snowpack with at least three distinct, widespread weak layers, as well as its own “upside-down” storm-snow weaknesses. The top foot or so is loose and makes for great skiing, but poorly bonded and very reactive.”
Guide Company (AH) was aware of the unstable and dangerous snow condition (based on film footage from the morning meeting of AH on March 13, before the avalanche incident). Two avalanche forecasts were given (with and without wind deposit snow) by leading guide Rob Liberman to the heli guides. Liberman was aware of surface hoar growth the day before. He said if wind was to deposit snow on that layer, it would be a reactive layer, (If surface hoar layer is buried is potential avalanche danger). After the morning meetings (including March 13), the guide members of AH routinely went to the shack in the premises of AH base where they smoked marijuana.
Our son Nickolay Dodov’s group was not informed about the dangerous snow conditions. “We are taking you to the bunny hill” indicating an attitude of casualness as client Dwell Bailey didn’t even take his 2nd safety device along, (air bag pack) , Bailey said “It wasn’t apparent to any of us /the clients/ that it was a danger”, was his statement. On the run prior to the avalanche incident, a snow pack evaluation was done. It showed dangerous conditions, and so the group was taken on an alternative route. Instead of calling the day off because of the dangerous conditions, Liberman told the group that the company was already paying for the helicopter, and persuaded them “lets go find better snow”. Guide Rob Liberman took them to a run called “Swanny”. The clients were concerned that the snow conditions looked suspicious. Liberman didn’t check the snow and assured them, “Don’t be concerned. It’s just an alpine bowl and the snow should be fine”; as documented on Go-Pro footage. (An alpine bowl with rolling hills and multiple gullies with steepness 25-40* with unstable new accumulated snow and wind slab that could break in long running fractures if they are over a weak layer is potential avalanches danger). This was the run on which the avalanche occurred.
Alaska Heliskiing rents inflatable airbag backpacks that keep skiers atop avalanches and could save a life. For safety in the helicopter, AH makes clients wearing the inflatable air backpacks to zip closed the deployment cord. There is a safety concern that the airbag might accidentally inflate in the helicopter possibly causing a crash. Rob Liberman wasn’t wearing any safety devises. (i.e. breathing device such as AvaLung and inflatable air backpack). Nor did he check the readiness of the client’s inflatable air backpacks once outside the helicopter before the run. Our son was wearing both devises; he was found under the snow with his air backpack deployment cord zipped up, inaccessible.
Nickolay Dodov was directed by Rob Liberman, “go to the right, there is better powder there”. This triggered 800 feet wide avalanche, with depth of the crown 16 inches to 6 feet. Search and rescue was slow and inadequate. AH operating permit states; To locate victim as soon as possible use all heliski groups already in the field. Sixteen people were at the scene of the avalanche; (5 clients and a guide on the top on “Swanny” Ridge, 5 clients and a guide in approaching helicopter when the avalanche released, and four survivors). Film footage is recording a guide named Nick Barlow waiting on some slope. His skis are off and it appears he is the guide with another group. The film records the audio words coming over his radio from the helicopter approaching the scene, the words come over the radio from Gabe, “Rob, Rob do you copy? I need you to get on Robs’s frequency right now…and get a count ASAP. I want you guys to hold tight…there’s hangfire. I’m going to put myself on-slope I’m going in”. The first guide was dropped on the scene approximately 25-30 minutes after the avalanche released, according to eyewitness statement. The group of the survivors didn’t have a radio to communicate to the base, as they should have according to the safety regulations. When a guide takes a group solo he has to have a client with a radio trained to take action in case the guide is buried in an avalanche. Survivor eyewitness Brandon Corbet, had his Go Pro camera on. He revealed that he had erased from the actual footage the search and rescue but kept only 36 still images. He revealed that only three of the surviving clients and two guides were involved in the search and rescue. He revealed the actual time line from the time the victims were buried until their bodies were recovered was 47 minutes. After 47 minutes the place was swamped with other guides. (A person located in the first 15 minutes has an approximately 90 percent chance of survival. The probability of survival drops off rapidly after that time. After 90 minutes, the probability of survival is approximately 25 percent).
Rob Liberman was flown straight to Haines Medical Clinic. Transportation of the unconscious Nickolay Dodov to a hospital was untimely: Nickolay was first taken to the base. According to eyewitness when Nick was brought to the base he was not responsive and that is when they stopped giving him CPR. Nickolay was dead. An ambulance arrived 37 minutes later. The ambulance was at the base for 28 min. Then Nick was driven 40 minutes to Haines Medical Clinic. It takes only 9 minutes by air from the avalanche site to Haines Medical Clinic. The total time from the time Nick was buried under the snow until his arrived in the Haines Medical Clinic was 2 hours and 32 minutes. According to eyewitness statement AH didn’t have adequate number of helicopters for the numbers of clients they had at the time to respond timely and sufficient to search and rescue operation. AH operating permit states; If necessary, the victim will be transported directly to Haines Medical Clinic or Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau for treatment.
Somewhere on the way to the clinic, or in the clinic Nick’s heart was revived. Nickolay Dodov arrived in Haines Medical Clinic 1.02pm on March 13, 2012. The Haines Medical Clinic revealed that they provide only 2 hours of life support. Nickolay was kept at the Clinic for over 6 hours.
Nickolay Dodov was transported to a hospital in Seattle, WA, where he arrived 1.30am on March 14, and where he was declared dead. According to the doctors from TraumaCenter in Seattle his actual death occurred in Alaska. Nickolay was transported out of the state of Alaska, to prevent a state investigation
Alaska Heliskiing LLC stated in their 2012 operating permit;
“Pilots and guides each have an equally difficult task in assuring the safety and happiness of the helicopter skiing client. Pilots and guides must work together as a team helping each other to overcome the dangers of this activity and profession. People who come to ski/snowboard with us are spending a lot of money and in some cases save for years just to afford one trip like this in a lifetime. Therefore, we must try to do everything in our power to assure their total safety and complete satisfaction. We can only accomplish this as a team with open communications, understanding, patience, consideration, and respect. Any deficiency in any of these qualities or operation must be discussed and rectified. Our team abilities, environment, safety skills, and superior attitude are what will give our clients an amazing experience, and keep them coming back.”
THE GOALS OF THE SAFETY PLAN OF Alaska Heliskiing
“The goal of this safety plan is to develop a backcountry skiing program that will promote the safety of our guests. A degree of hazard is inseparable from the use of alpine winter recreation areas where severe weather and rugged terrain is often encountered. Careful compliance with this plan, however, will minimize the danger and help to safeguard the public from foreseeable hazards.”
In the deadly avalanche accident of March 13, 2012, Alaska Heliskiing ignored the dangerous conditions, and in an urge to make money pushed the guides and the clients to go ski.
AH knew that the avalanche danger was high, did not tell its clients about the dangerous conditions and instead persuaded them not to be concerned about conditions. The clients were not adequately warned or informed of the inherent dangers the day of March 13. The clients did not receive proper instruction on use of safety equipment. The trip was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guide used bad judgment. The rescue was overly lengthy and complicated and lead to the death of the client. Permit requirements and compliance to policies, procedures, and protocols in the tour company’s Operations Plan were broken contributing to the death of our son Nickolay Dodov.
Alaska Heliskiing LLC didn’t follow the safety plan and search and rescue protocols from their operating permit, they only followed the risk management and guidelines for handling an accident and how to deal with victims family and media.
Risk Management is the process of doing everything you can to protect people, property, and assets from losses.
There is a lot more to Risk Management than simply buying insurance. When you purchase insurance you really have entered into a partnership with your insurance program. It is your combined assets that are at stake. If you approach this matter casually your insurance program will be looking for a new partner: as well, the future of recreation will be compromised.
To further understand the importance of Risk Management, it is useful to look at the five most common allegations of a lawsuit against Recreation Service Providers:
A. The injured was not adequately warned and informed of the inherent dangers.
B. The injured did not receive proper instruction on skills and the use of equipment.
C. The trip was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
D. The guide used bad judgment.
E. The rescue was overly lengthy and complicated and subjected the injured to undo pain and suffering.
GUIDELINES FOR HANDLING AN ACCIDENT
What To Say, Not Say, Do, and Not Do
Often the opportunity to defend an Outfitter or Guide against frivolous litigation is lost in the few days after the accident occurs. As time goes by, memories fade, details are forgotten, and the opportunity to put a professional face on the entire incident is lost. Quite often litigation attorneys wait until the Statute of Limitations almost expires before they file the lawsuit. Their hope and the reality unfortunately, too often is that by the time the lawsuit is filed, so much has been lost and forgotten that it becomes impossible and impractical to defend the outfitter against the lawsuit. The sooner and the earlier information is gathered and obtained concerning the accident, the better your chances are of affecting a positive outcome if faced with a potentially damaging litigation.
The following guidelines will help the concerned Outfitter and Guide to handle accident situations properly and help avoid this type of litigation. Please remember speed is of the essence. Any delay could end up costing the Outfitting industry, and ultimately the Outfitter, thousands of dollars in legal fees and higher insurance premiums.
RELATIONSHIP TO THE INJURED
Lawsuits are entered by injured parties when they feel that the Outfitter has not demonstrated the highest level of care and concern for their well being and personal safety. This care and concern starts before the accident, and should be an ongoing element of the entire trip. Learning peoples names, responding to them as individuals, and showing care and concern for their well being throughout the trip is probably as important, if not more important than the care and concern you show to them once the accident has occurred. Remember to make friends. You are less likely to sue your friends. Search and Rescue experts and Psychologists have taught us that injured persons respond better and develop lesser degrees of shock, if one individual is assigned to that person, stays with that person throughout the evacuation, rides with them in the ambulance or vehicle to the hospital. Checks them into the hospital, remains with them in the waiting room and gives them the same kind of care and attention that a parent would give their child. This consistent thread from the accident site through the evacuation, into the hospital, has a calming and settling effect on accident victims. It is often the most important factor in discouraging accident victims from going into litigation. Do no give them an opportunity to get upset.
As well, the comfort and psychological well being of the rest of the trip participants is an important factor.
Other individuals, family members, and witnesses are going to be canvassed later for their opinion of what happened, what occurred, and what type of care was given to the injured party. These people have in certain situations, become accident victims themselves because of their own mental state and the Outfitters disregard for their well being. Make certain that the entire party is taken care of, administered to, and made comfortable. Their evaluation of what happened will be a critical element of litigation.
1. Not make any guarantees of a speedy evacuation. You can say that you are dong the best you can, that you have sent for help, that we are in a remote situation and it could take some time to get you out.
2. Not make admission of guilt or wrong-doing, such as “We’ve had problems here before”. Comments of this nature will be very damaging in litigation. Do not make value judgments or statements concerning what happened.
3. It is okay to say you’re sorry that they are hurt, that you are doing everything you can to get them out as fast as you can, and to show empathy and sympathy for what they are experiencing.
4. Obtain as many pictures as possible of the accident site and the accident victim. Pay particular
attention to the terrain encountered by the accident victim immediately before the accident occurred.
As well canvas all participants to see if by chance some might have recorded the accident on film.
NOTE: Accidents with known injurious consequences involving evacuations and transportation to medical personnel for further evaluation and treatment must be reported to the Insurance Company by the Association Member within 72 hours.
COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE NEWS MEDIA
If there has been a fatality, the prudent Outfitter can count on some contact with the News Media. Often this contact leads to poorly documented facts of the accident and results in bad publicity and potential litigation problems. The company owner will designate a spokesperson to provide information to the News Media. The spokesperson should do the following.
1. Prepare a factual statement to be reviewed by legal council if necessary.
2. Communicate the statement to the Wire Service, AP, and UPI.
3. Set up a system for handling telephone inquiries.
In the unfortunate event that the News Media has picked up on the fact that there has been an accident, and they arrive at the accident scene, remember, their job is to sell press. They are going to try to sensationalize and dramatize the story as much as possible. They will ask leading questions, make accusatory statements, heckle other members of the party, and press them for statements. These statements may or may not be accurate concerning the events of the accident. At the scene of the accident and or evacuation, it is best to appoint a representative to speak to the press and make very few statements. Encourage them to contact the main office for a further statement. Your best defense is to say “We do not have any comments at this time”.
Try to keep the News Media away from other members of the party, if at all possible.
The following comments are offered as a general guide in dealing with the News Media. You will find the News Media cooperative if you deal with them straightforwardly and with facts subject only to legal constraints, consideration of next of kin, protection of the injured, and good taste. Hesitantly, or improperly dealing with the press in an emergency situation may not only escalate their news coverage, but in the long run can be critically costly to your program, and take a great deal longer to remedy. From a public relations point of view, the objective is to have a one day story, and to avoid a continuing series of headlines and features dragged out over a period of days or weeks.
Most dealings with the News Media will take place over the phone. Rather than reading a canned story to the caller, the spokesperson should have a written list of key points for reference and tell the story in his or her own words. The press will want to know.
What Happened, where it happened, who was involved, why it happened, and background on out
Alaska Heliskiing’s LLC operation permit (issued by Haines Borough) was 5 years outdated. Alaska Heliskiing’s 2012 operating permit (stamped and signed by Haines Borough) states: BLM responsibility of administration of Alaska Heliskiing, LLC helicopter skiing operations include: inspectional of facilities and operation for compliance with the tour permit terms so that public health and safety are protected, and satisfactory public service is provided; Cooperation with Alaska Heliskiing, LLC personnel in avalanche safety with regard to the helicopter skiing program; a close working relationship with the Haines Borough and BLM is desirable. Because BLM had not issued AH permit since 2005, these administration responsibilities were not followed.
Alaska Heliskiing LLC has no current land use permit from the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and has not had one since 2005. If they had attempted to obtain a permit, the BLM would thoroughly screen AH. By definition, BLM is responsible to require and inspect operation and safety plans, perform extensive environmental analysis, perform monitoring, perform evaluations and on-the-ground compliance for any and all Special Recreation Permits.
Date: Tue, 30 Oct 2012 10:36:19 -0600
Subject: RE: we are sending all the information to Alaska Bureau of Investigation
I hope I can help answer and clarify your questions below.
First, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) thoroughly screens applicants; requires and inspects operation and safety plans; performs extensive environmental analysis; and performs monitoring, performance evaluations, and on-the-ground compliance on any and all Special Recreation Permits we issue on the lands we manage. With respect to the unfortunate incident that occurred earlier this year near Haines, the accident occurred on non-BLM managed lands and I understand was operating under an authorization administered by the Haines Borough. I’m not fully engaged as to what the permit requirements and compliance process is for the Haines Borough.Second, I need to reiterate that Alaska Heliski does not have a BLM permit for 2012. This company did in fact submit an application with our office requesting to operate on BLM lands in 2012 but we didn’t issue them a permit. This is related to my previous message that no new applications will be processed or approved until we have completed our Ring of Fire Resource Management Plan Amendment for the Haines area, which includes an analysis of permitted helicopter activities. Third, I don’t understand you’re third question. Can you please rephrase it.Also if helpful, I’ve attached a color-coded land ownership map of the Haines area so you can see where BLM managed lands and jurisdiction are as compared to State/Haines Borough lands. The checkerboard land ownership pattern in Alaska can be quite confusing. Just remember that lands listed as Selected and colored light blue or beige on the attached map are currently managed by the BLM, until such time the lands are approved or not for conveyance to another land owner. Our office has not issued any permits for commercial heliski activities in the Haines area since 2005
To further answer your question from below, BLM applicants and permittees are required to comply with all Federal, State, and local laws; ordinances; regulations; orders; postings; or written requirements applicable to the area or operations covered by the Special Recreation Permit (SRP or permit). Therefore, applicants in the Haines area may be required to submit additional supplemental information, such as a letter or permit granting permission to use private or other agency land in conjunction with public land (e.g. Haines Borough Commercial Use Permit for Alaska Heliski). Bottom line, Alaska Heliski may have wanted or thought they were going to be issued a BLM permit in 2012 but the BLM manager told them we will not be issuing any permits for commercial heliski activities until our current land use planning effort is complete.
Regarding any correspondence I may have received from a Tim Thomas from last October, I’ve checked my archive email and files and I don’t have anything from this individual. In fact, my point-of-contact with Alaska Heliski’s last submitted application with our office is Sean Brownell and I don’t recall ever speaking to the individual you mentioned.
Yes, BLM has several recreation permit specialists in Alaska who perform permit administration and compliance. I don’t have any knowledge of who’s performing similar duties for the Haines Borough regarding surrounding State lands.
Again, please feel free to call me anytime.
Outdoor Recreation Planner
Anchorage Field Office
4700 BLM Road
Anchorage, Alaska 99507
Alaska Heliskiing LLC has no current land use permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and has not had one since 2008. By definition of DNR regulations, Alaska Heslikiing LLC is criminally trespassing on StateLand. The incident happened on StateLand managed by DNR. Alaska Heslikiing LLC not having a DNR permit has not been inspected and regulated for storing diesel, spill plan and prevention methods. Therefore, Alaska Hesliskiing LLC stored diesel fuel too close to the river.
Subject: Alaska Heliskiing
Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2012 21:04:12 +0000
Natalia and Alex:
I apologize for not responding in a timely manner. Please do not construe my tardy response as me not being sympathetic to your cause or an attempt to hide anything. We have nothing to hide. In fact, we have had several inquiries about our relationship with Alaska Heliskiing and the permits we have issued to them. These inquiries are actually documented and part of the public record.
The last time DNR issued an authorization to Alaska Heliskiing as November, 2008 and it was valid for approximately one month. If their daily client load on state owned land within the Haines State Forest over the past 4 to 5 operating seasons has been 11 or less per day, their activity would have been covered under our Generally Allowed Uses (11 AAC 96.020) provided they registered their Commercial Recreation Day Use with DNR athttp://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/commrec/. Upon checking our Commercial Day Use registration information, it appears as if they did not register their Commercial Recreation Day Use. Alaska Heliskiing not having registered their Commercial Recreation Day Use or secured a DNR land use permit was not authorized to use state owned land within the HainesStateForest for commercial recreation purposes.
If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to call me. I am in the office Monday through Friday 8:00AM – 4:30PM.
David L. Kelley
Regional Manager, SEROLand Office
AK Division of Mining, Land & Water
1 (907) 465-3402
A full copy of ;
Alaska Helissking LLC misrepresented its safety standards and activities, inducing clients to use its services. Alaska Heliskiing LLC claimed on it’s website to be a member of Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, that sets strict safety standards, and the guides meet or exceed the Association requirements. In fact, AHSA does not exist, according to numerous industry operators. These claims were later retracted and removed from the AH website.
The safety section that was removed from AH website;
An article in;
Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966
Heli-ski safety claim in question
By Karen Garcia
Until Tuesday evening, Haines-based Alaska Heliskiing claimed on its website to be a member of the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, which does not exist, according to numerous industry operators.
In the safety section of the company’s website, under the heading “Our Safety Program,” Alaska Heliskiing claimed membership in an organization called the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association.
“AHSA sets strict safety standards for Alaskan helicopter skiing operations and as part of our membership we are required to have our safety systems and procedures reviewed on a regular basis,” the site read.
Numerous heli-ski operators in the state said they had never heard of such an association and that it does not exist.
Scott Sundberg, owner of the Haines-based Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA), said the association was a loose, unofficial group of operators in the early 2000s that “fell on its face” and “fizzled” by 2003. Sundberg said the group never set safety standards and was never responsible for monitoring or reviewing the safety protocols of heli-ski operators in Alaska.
Alaska Heliskiing removed the safety section of its website Tuesday after the CVN sent emails to company officials about the advertised affiliation.
Alaska Heliskiing’s website also stated, under the heading “Our Guides,” that “each of our guides meets or exceeds the requirements of ‘a guide’ as set by the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association.
The website’s statements were described as “not factual” and “fictitious.” by processionals in the heli-skiing industry.
“Of the 19 heli-ski operators in Alaska, there’s one member of the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association. And that’s them,” were the words of professional heli-skiing guide.
Scott Raynor, the owner and operator of Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, said he was not familiar with an Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association. Mark Kelly, of the Valdez-based H2O Guides, also said he “doesn’t believe it exists.”
Alaska Heliskiing’s safety protocols have come under scrutiny recently due to an avalanche last spring which killed an Alaska Heliskiing guide and client.
“When we’re reviewing their permit, if they’re making claims on their website that are erroneous, that would contribute to a negative review of their permit, I would think,” Scott said.
Alaska Heliskiing owner Vicki Gardner did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment. Orion Koleis, the company’s operations manager, did not return an emailed request for comment.
We submitted an “Assembly Action Request” with Haines Borough on 8/17/12. This request for investigation has never been on the agenda for public hearing. Instead it has been held with the Borough attorney. Our request was for a review and investigation from Haines Borough, as they are the ones who administer the original, outdated Heliski operating permit.
After three weeks with no response from Haines Borough we called the editor of Chilkat Valley News, Tom Morphet, he posted two articles in the newspaper;
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Victim’s family: Revoke heli-ski permit
By Tom Morphet
The parents of a 26-year-old man killed by an avalanche during an Alaska Heliskiing tour in March want the Haines Borough to discontinue the company’s permit, saying details of the fatal accident showed the firm did not follow its own, borough-approved operation and safety plan.
“We believe permit requirements and compliance to policies, procedures and protocols in the operations plan have been broken, resulting in the death of Nickolay Dodov. We have documentation of negligence, unsafe operations and procedures not followed,” Alex and Natalia Dodov wrote to the borough Aug. 17.
The couple sent 23 pages of documents including ones comparing the company’s operations and safety plan to details contained in an avalanche incident report written by Alaska Heliskiing guide Kent Scheler.
The complaint became known this week after the Dodovs forwarded it to the Chilkat Valley News. Phone calls and e-mail messages to Alaska Heliskiing Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned to the newspaper.
Alex Dodov describes himself as a professional ski and snowboard coach who worked as a heli-ski guide and operator in Europe. In an interview this week, the couple said they would sue Alaska Heliskiing for gross negligence.
“We realize that heli-snowboarding is an inherently dangerous sport. We have a life of outdoor experience… We have learned that Alaska Heliskiing was extremely negligent, ignoring normal safety protocol. We believe to attract kids with your advertisement and not do your job in a professional way has no place on the mountains,” they wrote.
Nickolay Dodov, 26, of Truckee, Calif ., and company guide Rob Liberman, 35, of Telluride, Colo ., died in a skier-triggered avalanche at “Swanny’s,” a mountain bowl on the west side of Takhin Ridge at about 10:30 a.m. on March 13.
The couple’s allegations, in several areas, contradict statements made to Alaska State Troopers shortly after the accident by Dwight Bailey, one of five skiers in the group on the fatal trip.
In an interview this week, the Dodovs said their information includes footage from a “Go Pro” film of the outing and testimony from another skier in the group, Casey Osteen, a friend of their son.
“There’s a lot of conflicting information,” Natalia Dodov said this week in a telephone interview.
The couple said the film shows Bailey expressing suspicion about snow conditions and eliciting this response from guide Liberman: “Don’t be concerned. The snow should be fine. It’s just an alpine bowl.”
Liberman also referred to Swanny’s as “the bunny hill,” according to the Dodovs.
According to the Dodovs, skiers in the group first were taken to a peak where Liberman tested the snow condition and found it unsafe. They proceeded to a second slope, where they made a run, but wet snow there was sticking to their snowboards.
Osteen told guide Liberman he didn’t want to spend any more money on “crappy snow,” but Liberman told the group that the company was already paying for the helicopter, the Dodovs said.
“My boy was getting close to Rob (Liberman). He’d support Rob in any way,” Alex Dodov said in an interview.
But the Dodovs also claim Liberman made jokes about his clients wearing safety gear, including breathing devices and inflatable cushions that keep skiers atop avalanches. Dodov was wearing both devices when he died. Liberman wasn’t wearing either one.
“He said, ‘Why are you wearing that stuff? I never wear that stuff.’ (Liberman) said, when his time comes, it’s okay with him,” said Alex Dodov.
The Dodovs said the company had a responsibility, as outlined in its permit, to study and understand snow conditions, to check the stability of slopes and choose appropriate routes.
Inconsistencies they cited include a company report that the avalanche danger rating on March 13 was “moderate,” while the HainesAvalancheInformationCenter reported it as “considerable.”
The “considerable” rating is the most hazardous and comes when avalanche danger is high, but not immediately obvious.
“Avalanche education courses teach that slopes with 25 to 40 degree pitch with a considerable avalanche rating in effect are the most prone to major catastrophic avalanches,” the couple wrote.
The company’s report that the snowpack on March 12 was “right side up” conflicts with the avalanche information center’s that the snow was “upside down,” including “widespread weak layers,” the Dodovs said.
Among the questions raised by the family are:
· Why the Haines Borough hasn’t requested a full investigation of the accident and the company’s accident report;
· Why two other skier groups – one on a nearby ridge waiting to ski the same slope and another in the air – weren’t used in the attempted rescue of the buried skiers, as suggested by company’s avalanche plan;
· Why Liberman didn’t check on the readiness of his clients’ safety gear;
· Why an ambulance instead of a helicopter was used to bring Dodov into town; and,
· Why no one from the Alaska Heliskiing contacted them until two days after the accident.
The Dodovs also said that emergency contact information and a pilot roster information on the company’s permit application is out of date. “The Haines Borough put its stamp on a permit with information that was outdated four or five years. It’s like a small-town patting (the compnay) on the back,” Alex Dodov said this week.
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Mayor, assembly not informed of request
By Tom Morphet
Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest on Wednesday cited a busy schedule for not informing Mayor Stephanie Scott or assembly members of a request for assembly action from the family of a dead heli-skier who claim a local guiding firm violated safety provisions of its borough-issued permit.
The borough received about two dozen pages of information from Alex and Natalia Dodov Aug. 24, claiming Alaska Heliskiing recklessly disregarded safety standards laid out in its permit, leading to their son’s death. Scott and assembly member Debra Schnabel learned of the claim Monday through information provided by the Chilkat Valley News.
“We were going to (tell Scott) in a meeting we kept trying to arrange. (Clerk) Julie (Cozzi) and I and the Mayor were going to meet. There were just interruptions,” Earnest said this week.
The family’s packet of information to the borough included a request that the assembly and other officials review Alaska Heliskiing’s permit in light of their allegations. Their request came on a borough form titled “Agenda Request for Assembly Action.”
Scott said she was “shocked” and “felt duped to an extent” that the matter was not brought to her attention, including when she was consulting with Earnest and clerk Cozzi early last week while preparing the agenda for the Sept. 11 assembly meeting.
“I have told them that it was impossible for me to do my job if I wasn’t forwarded requests for assembly action,” Scott said Tuesday.
Scott said she asked Earnest to provide a verbal report to the assembly on the matter for Tuesday’s meeting, but Earnest was absent due to illness and the family’s claim was not mentioned at the meeting.
At press time Wednesday, Scott was arranging for a letter to be sent to the Dodovs, explaining what actions the borough was taking.
Cozzi confirmed receipt of the Dodovs’ request on Aug. 24, three days after the assembly held a workshop on permitting changes for Alaska Heliskiing and two other companies, and five days before an Aug. 28 assembly meeting.
The assembly was scheduled to resume discussion of heli-skiing permit conditions at its Sept. 11 meeting.
Clerk Cozzi e-mailed the Dodovs that the agenda deadline for the Aug. 28 meeting was 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 20. “Therefore, since your submittal missed the deadline, this will definitely not be on this upcoming agenda. That agenda has been finalized and officially published.”
Cozzi informed the Dodovs that manager Mark Earnest was out ill and hadn’t seen the documents.
“I have begun processing your request, which will include a legal review, and I cannot yet give you an estimate of when you may expect a response from the borough. You will be contacted at some point, as soon as possible,” Cozzi wrote Aug. 24.
The Dodovs e-mailed the borough a personal letter the following day, Aug. 25, which Cozzi confirmed receiving Aug. 27. On Sept. 6, Natalia Dodov again e-mailed Cozzi: “Please let us know when to anticipate the assembly meeting date in which the AH permit renewal will be reviewed. We would need to make plans.”
On Sept. 6, Cozzi responded, “I will check with the manager and Mayor and get an update for you.”
Scott said this week that Earnest made only superficial mention of a correspondence from the Dodovs.
“(Assemblywoman) Debra (Schnabel) had heard the (Dodovs) were making inquiries and I suggested to Mark Earnest that we have an executive session to discuss the Williamson (drowning) lawsuit, the Kammerer complaint (against the police department) and Alaska Heliskiing. I was told there was nothing to discuss,” Scott said this week.
In an interview this week, Cozzi said she was serving as acting manager when the Dodovs’ request arrived and she forwarded it to Earnest and to borough attorney Brooks Chandler. She said she didn’t believe the request was an assembly matter, as the borough manager issues heli-ski permits.
“This is not under the purview of the assembly. It’s not an assembly thing. Just because someone wants something to go to the assembly doesn’t make it an assembly thing,” Cozzi said. “My job is to receive things and to disseminate them. I asked (Earnest) to disseminate this.”
Cozzi said she’d repeatedly asked Earnest about forwarding the information to Scott.
“I asked the manager. I said, ‘I need to tell the Mayor something.’ He told me to tell her that we’d received a communication from the family of the (Alaska Heliskiing) client and that at some point he’d be meeting with the Mayor so she could decide whether or not or when there was something for the assembly to do and it would go on the agenda… I still contend that the assembly has nothing to do with this right now,” Cozzi said.
Cozzi said she did mention to Scott that there had been correspondence from the family. “I told the Mayor we had received communication from the family and that the attorney advised that it was not under the assembly’s purview at this time, if ever.”
Cozzi said she forwarded the Dodov’s information to lawyer Chandler “because when I read through it, I was concerned… at least the implication was there that we had liability.”
The extent of borough work on the Dodov material was unclear this week. Cozzi characterized Chandler’s work on the matter as an “investigation.” Earnest said: “We were going to be looking at some aspects of (the Dodovs’ request) for an investigation.”
Earnest said he directed the attorney to review the family’s claims and Chandler has responded. Earnest, who was interviewed Wednesday while at home sick, said he has received a response from Chandler but couldn’t characterize it.
Some of the emails from the Haines Borough Officials and the Mayor of Haines;
|From:||Natalia Dodova (firstname.lastname@example.org)|
|Sent:||Thu 9/06/12 6:05 PM|
|To:||julie cozzi (email@example.com)|
Hi Julie Cozzi
Please let us know when to anticipate the assembly meeting date in which the AH permit renewal will be reviewed. We would need to make plans.
Natalia and Alex Dodov
julie cozzi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I will check with the manager and mayor and get an update for you.
Julie Cozzi, MMC
P.O. Box 1209
“The most wasted day of all is that in which we have not laughed.”
mark earnest (email@example.com)
To: Natalia Dodova, Julie Cozzi, Stephanie Scott
Cc: Darsie Culbeck
I am very sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this. It is totally my fault, and I accept 100% responsibility for the delay. We will get back with you as soon as possible with whatever information we can provide to you.
stephanie scott (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Natalia Dodova
Cc: Julie Cozzi, Mark Earnest
Please believe me when I say that you have not been forgotten! As of this time, we have nothing to report. Our procedures require heliski operators to apply annually for a permit. Alaska Heliski has not applied. Your request to have the permit revoked is still before the Manager and will be considered when and if the operator applies for a permit.
I can imagine that this situation is not very satisfying because at this time there is simply no guarantee that the Manager will take the action you desire. Many factors will enter into the decision, including information from the investigation by the Alaska State Troopers and the findings of our own internal examination. To my knowledge, neither of these processes have been concluded.
Perhaps, at this time, I could inquire as to additional actions that you may have taken?
Please don’t hesitate to contact me either by email or by phone.
Mayor, Haines Borough
The police and Haines Borough are under the authority of the Mayor’s office. It is disturbing that the Mayor wasn’t aware of our complaint.
CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS
Mayor aims to improve communication
The Mayor sets meeting agendas, but neither she nor assembly members were notified of an August complaint and request for assembly action from the family of heli-skier killed during a tour here in March.
The complaint instead went to the borough attorney.
Haines resident response to Haines Borough covering up the deadly accident
Time to restart search for next manager
The borough assembly should restart the search for a new manager. Our current one is not doing the job that he is getting paid for. Unfortunately the assembly made the decision to retain him after he was out the door. The public’s best interest is not being served.
Now the assembly is having to deal with the repercussions of being kept in the dark on legal issues and shoddy enforcement of code and ordinances. The frequent answers we hear are, “I’m working on it” and “That’s not public information.”
We elected our current Mayor on a platform of open government and transparency. Perhaps it is time to return to a strong Mayor form of government. At least then we have a locally elected official to hold accountable. The revolving door of part- time managers is not working for our community.
Some of Nick Dodov’s GoPro videos.