View a Daily Dispatch

Any charges reported in these press releases are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.


Location: Wrangell
Type: Landslide / Search and Rescue Operation

Dispatch Text:

UPDATE: 12/1/2023, 8:50 am: At 4:25 p.m. on November 30, 2023, the body of Otto Florschutz was located and recovered from the landslide debris with the assistance of Wrangell Search and Rescue k-9, Wrangell Search and Rescue volunteers, and an excavator. Next of kin and the State Medical Examiner’s Office have been notified. 12-year-old Derek Heller is still missing. Search and Rescue volunteers and a scent detection K9 team continue with reactive searching as any new information or evidence leads to a specific search area.

UPDATE: 11/26/23, 10:00 am: At 6:35 p.m. on November 25, 2023, the body of 11-year-old Kara Heller was recovered from the landslide debris. A Scent Detection K-9 indicated on an area of the debris and with the assistance of an excavator, the remains were recovered. Next of kin and the State Medical Examiner's Office has been notified. A scent detection K9 team remains on standby and will resume searching if new information or evidence leads to a specific search area.

The two Alaskans that remain missing since the landslide occurred:

65-year-old Otto Florschutz
12-year-old Derek Heller

UPDATE 11/24/23 11:00 am: The Alaska Department of Public Safety continues to work closely with our partners at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on clearing the roadway of debris. A scent detection K9 team remains on standby to resume searching if new information or evidence provides a specific search area that needs to be investigated.

Three Alaskans remain missing since the landslide occurred:

  • 65-year-old Otto Florschutz
  • 12-year-old Derek Heller
  • 11-year-old Kara Heller

Three Alaskans were located deceased during the search effort:

  • 44-year-old Timothy Heller (located 11/21/23)
  • 36-year-old Beth Heller (located 11/21/23)
  • 16-year-old Mara Heller (located 11/20/23)

Next of kin have been notified for the missing and deceased. The bodies of the deceased were sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for autopsy.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety does not anticipate releasing any further press releases on the Wrangell landslide unless any of the missing persons are located, or active search efforts are resumed due to new information. For updates on road-clearing efforts, please follow the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities social media pages. Please follow the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s social media channels for information about the state-declared disaster declaration and ongoing recovery efforts.

UPDATE 11/23/23 12:00 pm: As of 11:00 am, the Alaska State Troopers have changed the search and rescue strategy from an active search to a reactive search. Three people remain missing within the slide zone: one adult and two juveniles. After three separate active search efforts, including aerial searching with drones, helicopters, and planes; ground teams with K9 scent detection dogs and trained professionals; and water-based searching with K9 teams and sonar, search teams have reached all areas accessible without the use of heavy machinery. With the assistance of our partners at the Alaska Department of Transportations and Public Facilities, efforts have begun to methodically start clearing the roadway as well as looking for the three missing people who may be buried in the slide area. If new evidence or information suggests that any missing people may be in a specific area in the slide zone, the Alaska State Troopers may restart the active search focused on that new area. While the active search is concluding, it remains a priority of the State of Alaska and your Alaska State Troopers to locate the three missing Alaskans so that we can bring closure to their families and the community. Our deepest sympathies are with the families, friends, and loved ones of the three deceased and three missing Alaskans.

We appreciate all of the assistance that has made this search possible from our local, state, and federal government partners and the regional search and rescue teams that dropped everything to respond to Wrangell to help with this search.

The Alaska State Troopers will release the names of the deceased individuals and missing persons on Friday, November 24, 2023.

UPDATE 11/23/23 9:20 am: This morning ground search teams have returned to the slide area to search for three missing persons (one adult and two juveniles). K9 teams will be searching along the waterline by small boat and joining ground teams in the slide area at multiple areas of interest. No additional volunteers are needed for the search and rescue effort at this time.

UPDATE 11/22/23 5:15 pm: All search teams have departed the slide area for the night. Three individuals remain missing (one adult and two juveniles). A search strategy for November 23, 2023, will be announced in the morning. The Alaska Department of Public Safety appreciates the local, state, and federal government agencies and countless volunteers who participated in the search today. 

There are no further updates planned for today. 

UPDATE 11/22/23 10:15 am: Search efforts to locate three missing people in the Wrangell slide area have resumed this morning. Ground teams made up of K9s and ground search teams are actively working to search areas that state geologists have determined as safe for entry. sUAS drones with advanced imaging capabilities will be searching from the air. Wrangell residents interested in assisting in the search and rescue efforts are asked to contact the Wrangell Police Department at (907) 874-3304 to sign up to assist. Areas of the slide remain unstable and active, and we continue to ask the public to please stay off of the slide.

UPDATE 11/21/23 5:15pm: This afternoon a drone operator located two deceased adults in the slide area. The two bodies were recovered from the slide area this evening. At this time, Troopers believe that two juveniles and one adult are still unaccounted for in the slide area. Search and rescue K9 teams from SEA Dogs in Juneau and Wrangell Search and Rescue are actively searching on the ground. No further updates are expected tonight on the search and rescue effort. 

ORIGINAL: On November 20, 2023, at 8:51 pm, a large landslide was reported on the Zimovia Highway at mile 11. Emergency responders from the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Wrangell Police Department, Wrangell Fire Department, US Forest Service, Wrangell Search and Rescue, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and the US Coast Guard immediately responded to the site. A preliminary survey determined that three single-family residences were directly in the path of the landslide. The first responders started a hasty search to look for survivors. The body of one deceased individual was located during the hasty search. Multiple individuals are believed to have been within the slide area when the landslide occurred and are believed to be missing. The Alaska State Troopers have assumed command of the search and rescue effort.

DO NOT ENTER the slide area; the slide has been active throughout the night. Additional landslides are possible in the area. All persons living between mile 11 and the end of the pavement should evacuate into Wrangell. Water taxis are available to help those on the south end navigate to the other side of the slide area. The Zimovia Highway is closed to all highway traffic south of mile 11.

If you know someone is currently missing, please call the Wrangell Police Department at (907) 874-3304 to file a missing persons report.

Additional ground search efforts on the slide have been paused until the slide can be assessed for safety by a geologist. There is a risk of additional landslides in the area, which necessitates this assessment. Crews may use aerial search platforms such as planes, helicopters, and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) drones in search efforts today until the ground search can be resumed. Officials are working on bringing a Southeast Alaska-based geologist into Wrangell today to conduct the assessment.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is bringing in additional personnel and UAS drone equipment from DOT and AST this morning on a chartered aircraft from Juneau.

Posted on 11/21/2023 9:06:52 AM by DPS\ajmcdaniel

Posting Section: AK Wildlife Troopers