Alaska Landslide Claims Lives of Family and Local Fisherman, Leaves Others Missing

by Andrew Wright
Alaska landslide victims

On Friday, officials disclosed the identities of those presumed dead or missing in a recent landslide in Alaska, which include a family of five and their neighboring commercial fisherman, who had vied for Alaska’s solitary U.S. House seat last year.

The Heller family—Timothy, 44; Beth, 36; and their children Mara, 16; Derek, 12; and Kara, 11—were at their residence when the landslide hit on Monday night. Rescuers recovered the bodies of the parents and their eldest child later that night or early Tuesday. The two younger children and their neighbor, 65-year-old Otto Florschutz, remain unaccounted for, as per the statement from the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

The landslide left Florschutz’s wife as a survivor.

Florschutz, who had a background in Republican politics and had served on Wrangell’s Port Commission, entered the congressional race following the death of U.S. Rep. Don Young. He garnered 193 votes from a total of nearly 162,000.

During the campaign, as stated in a candidate profile by the Anchorage Daily News, Florschutz highlighted his diverse skill set, including 42 years in commercial fishing, community service, boat repair, and more.

Beth Heller, remembered for her service on the Wrangell School Board from 2019 to 2020 and earlier involvement in the parent advisory committee, co-owned a construction business named Heller High Water with her husband, as recounted by her lifelong friend Tyla Nelson.

Nelson emotionally recalled Beth Heller as an exemplary person and a devoted mother who prioritized her children’s well-being.

The landslide, which occurred amid a rainstorm and high winds, cleared a path of evergreen trees from the mountain’s peak down to the ocean, engulfing a local highway in Wrangell, a community situated about 155 miles (250 kilometers) south of Juneau.

Estimated at 450 feet (137 meters) in width, the landslide took place during adverse weather conditions, including about 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain and wind gusts reaching 60 mph (96 kph), as reported by Aaron Jacobs, a National Weather Service hydrologist and meteorologist in Juneau.

The disaster has isolated approximately 54 homes from the main town, with around 35 to 45 residents opting to stay. Supplies like food, fuel, water, and medications are being transported to them by boats, stated Mason Villarma, the interim borough manager. The geographical layout of the island necessitates reliance on the ocean for accessing these residences.

Efforts to clear the debris from the affected roadway were ongoing as of Friday.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Alaska landslide victims

Who were the victims identified in the recent Alaska landslide?

The victims identified in the Alaska landslide included Timothy Heller (44), Beth Heller (36), and their children Mara (16), Derek (12), and Kara (11). Their neighbor, Otto Florschutz (65), a commercial fisherman who had run for Alaska’s U.S. House seat, was also listed as missing.

What happened to the Heller family during the landslide?

The Heller family was at their home when the landslide occurred. Timothy, Beth, and their eldest child Mara were found deceased, while the two younger children, Derek and Kara, are still missing.

What was Otto Florschutz’s political and professional background?

Otto Florschutz was a commercial fisherman with a history in Republican politics, having previously served on Wrangell’s Port Commission. He also made a bid for Alaska’s U.S. House seat, receiving 193 votes.

How did the landslide impact the Wrangell community?

The landslide in Wrangell resulted in the deaths and disappearances of local residents and caused significant disruptions. It isolated around 54 homes from the main town, with many residents choosing to remain despite the isolation. The community has been receiving essential supplies via boats.

What were the weather conditions during the landslide in Wrangell, Alaska?

The landslide occurred during a storm with about 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain and wind gusts up to 60 mph (96 kph). These harsh weather conditions contributed to the severity of the landslide.

What efforts are being made in response to the Wrangell landslide?

Efforts include clearing debris from roadways and providing essential supplies to isolated residents via boats. The community is working to restore access and support those affected by the disaster.

More about Alaska landslide victims

  • Alaska Landslide Incident Report
  • Wrangell Community Response
  • Heller Family Tribute
  • Otto Florschutz’s Congressional Campaign
  • Wrangell Landslide Weather Analysis
  • Alaska Department of Public Safety Update

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SarahL November 25, 2023 - 5:36 am

really shocked by this, landslide’s are terrifying. shows how powerful nature can be. stay safe everyone in Wrangell.

TomH November 25, 2023 - 5:42 pm

Otto was running for the House seat? didn’t know that, seems like he was a man of many talents. tragic loss for the community.

Jenny M. November 25, 2023 - 9:00 pm

so sad to hear about the Heller famly, can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. such a tragic event, thoughts are with them…

Mike Peterson November 25, 2023 - 11:56 pm

is there any update on the search for the missing kids? this is heart breaking, hope they find them soon


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