Alaska Landslide Devastates Family, Killing 3 Members, Leaving 2 Children Missing

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By Ketrin Agustine

Alaska Landslide Devastates Family, Killing 3 Members, Leaving 2 Children Missing

Authorities on Friday identified those missing or killed in a southeast Alaska landslide this week as five family members and their neighbor, a commercial fisherman who made a longshot bid for the state’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives last year.

Timothy Heller, 44, and Beth Heller, 36 — plus their children Mara, 16; Derek, 12; and Kara, 11 — were at home Monday night when the landslide struck near the island community of Wrangell. Search crews found the bodies of the parents and the oldest child late Monday or early Tuesday; the younger children remain missing, as does neighbor Otto Florschutz, 65, the Alaska Department of Public Safety said in an emailed statement.

Florschutz’s wife survived.

Florschutz, a Republican, was one of 48 candidates who entered the race to fill the vacant congressional seat. He received 193 votes out of nearly 162,000 cast.

In a candidate statement provided to the Anchorage Daily News back then, Florschutz said he was known for his ability to forge consensus.

“As a 42-year commercial fisherman, I have worn many hats,” he said. “Besides catching fish, I have served in community elected positions, done boat repair, mechanics, welding, carpentry, business and much more.”

Beth Heller served on the Wrangell School Board from 2019 to 2020 after several years on the district’s parent advisory committee.

The Hellers ran a construction company called Heller High Water, said Tyla Nelson, who described herself as Beth Heller’s best friend since high school. Beth and Timothy both grew up in Wrangell and married in August 2010, Nelson said.

Nelson sobbed as she described her friend as a “fantastic human.”

“And she was a wonderful mother,” she said. “She did everything for those babies.”

The slide tore down a swath of evergreen trees from the top of the mountain above the community to the ocean, striking three homes and burying a highway near the island community of Wrangell, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Alaska’s state capital, Juneau. One of the homes was unoccupied.

The slide — estimated to be 137 meters (450 feet) wide — occurred during heavy rainfall and high winds.

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