Southeast Backcountry Adventures pled guilty to one count of trespassing on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management on Friday.
Part owner of Southeast Backcountry Adventures, Ben Anderson, pled guilty to the charge in Anchorage’s U.S. District Court in front of Judge Timothy Burgess on Friday.
The case was opened after an investigation by BLM following the fatal fall by a member of a skiing group that had landed on a ridge top during a commercial heli-ski operation conducted by SEABA in the spring of 2013. After the group of skiiers exited the helicopter on March 3, a cornice the group was standing on gave way, resulting in the fall and the skiiers death.
BLM’s investigation showed that the company had obtained a Special Recreation Permit for helicopter skiing on BLM-managed lands south of the Tsirku River next to the Glacier Bay National Park near Haines from 2002 until 2006. But, in 2006, SEABA let their permit expire and did not renew it.
Following the expiration of SEABA’s permit, BLM closed the area to new heli-skiing permits pending an environmental impact study to take a look at the ever-increasing use by heli-ski operations in the area.
In Court, U.S. District Attorneys pointed out that in 2011, SEABA applied for a permit to utilize the area again for their operations. BLM informed SEABA of the closure and SEABA did not receive a permit. Despite not getting the permit, SEABA would continue to use the area for their commercial operations.
After the fatal accident, BLM would interview SEABA employees, review flight logs, maps and GPS flight data to find that the heli-ski company had operated commercially on the closed BLM lands 54 out of 78 days during 2012 and 2013 despite not having the proper permitting. BLM said that user fees for those operations would have totaled at least $11,556 if the area had been open to use.
In the plea agreement, both parties have agreed to recommend to the court that SEABA be sentenced to pay restitution in the amount of $11,556 as well as a $10,000 fine. Probation of two years will also be meted out, during which time, SEABA must make GPS data available to BLM for their heli-skiing operations.
The BLM Office of Law Enforcement and Security was assisted in its investigation by the Alaska State Troopers and the Haines Borough.