Tragic Consequences: Alaska Landslide Claims Fifth Victim as Search for 12-Year-Old Boy Comes to a Heartbreaking End

By Dec 11, 2023

Tragic Consequences: Alaska Landslide Claims Fifth Victim

Tragic Consequences-Introduction:

Tragic Consequences-In a somber turn of events, the aftermath of a devastating landslide in southern Alaska continues to unfold as search crews discovered the remains of yet another victim.

Tragic Consequences- The Alaska Department of Public Safety, in a news release on Friday, confirmed the recovery of Otto Florschutz, 65, leaving a 12-year-old boy named Derek Heller as the last person unaccounted for following the tragic incident that occurred on November 20.

Tragic Consequences

Tragic Consequences-The landslide, spanning 11 miles along Zimovia Highway in Wrangell, claimed the lives of five individuals and obliterated three homes.

Tragic Consequences-The Latest Discovery:

Tragic Consequences-Otto Florschutz, the latest victim of the landslide, was found and recovered from the debris by dedicated search and rescue teams on Wednesday, marking a solemn moment in the ongoing recovery efforts.

The relentless search had been underway since the devastating event unfolded, with the hopes of locating all missing individuals and bringing closure to grieving families.

Tragic Consequences-The Extensive Search Efforts:

The search for Derek Heller, the 12-year-old boy still missing, has been a collaborative effort involving various agencies and volunteers. Despite the combined efforts of the City of Wrangell Fire Department, Alaska State Troopers, US Coast Guard, US Forest Service, and numerous other entities, as well as the assistance of volunteers and K9 scent dogs, Derek could not be located.

Tragic Consequences-After 15 days of meticulous search operations, authorities made the difficult decision to call off the search, having thoroughly examined all accessible areas.

A Family Tragedy:

Derek Heller’s tragic situation is compounded by the loss of four family members in the landslide. Kara Heller, 11, and Mara Heller, 16, were among the victims, with search teams discovering Kara’s remains on November 25, while Mara’s body was found during the initial search and rescue efforts on November 20.

Additionally, the bodies of Timothy Heller, 44, and Beth Heller, 36, were located the following day, further underscoring the devastating impact of the natural disaster on a single family.

Landslide Details and Environmental Factors:

The landslide that struck Zimovia Highway exhibited a path estimated to be 450 feet wide, with a substantial debris field. The area had experienced significant rainfall in the 24 hours leading up to the event, with more than 3 inches of rain recorded in Wrangell.

According to Andy Park, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Juneau, winds reaching speeds of 61 to 87 mph on the evening of November 20 may have played a role in triggering the landslides.

Barrett Salisbury, a geologist with the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, highlighted the inherent risk of debris flows in the southeast Alaska region.

Factors such as heavy rainfall, rapid snowmelt, or saturated soil only serve to increase this risk, as discussed during a news conference addressing the geological aspects of the tragedy.

Government Response and Disaster Declaration:

In response to the devastating effects of the landslide, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for Wrangell on November 21.

This declaration underscores the severity of the situation and mobilizes resources to aid in recovery efforts, demonstrating the state’s commitment to supporting the affected community.


As southern Alaska grapples with the aftermath of the November landslide, the discovery of the fifth victim and the suspension of the search for young Derek Heller cast a pall over the ongoing recovery efforts. The tragedy serves as a poignant reminder of the unpredictable forces of nature and the profound impact they can have on individuals and communities.

As Wrangell begins the process of healing, the collective response of authorities, search teams, and the community at large underscores the resilience and solidarity needed in the face of such heartbreaking events.

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