Alaska News

Searchers find body of missing man 10 days after Wrangell landslide

A search and rescue team on Thursday afternoon found the body of a 65-year-old man who had been missing since the Nov. 20 landslide that destroyed three Wrangell homes and killed at least four other people. One person remained missing as of Saturday.

Otto Florschutz’s body was recovered around 4:25 p.m. with an excavator after a Wrangell Search and Rescue scent-detection dog indicated the area, Alaska State Troopers said in an update Friday morning.

Troopers said his next of kin and the State Medical Examiner Office were notified of his death. Florschutz’s wife survived the landslide.

The landslide hit two other homes, also killing members of the Heller family. The third home was unoccupied when the landslide struck.

Twelve-year-old Derek Heller was still missing as of Saturday. His parents, Timothy Heller, 44, and Beth Heller, 36, were found dead along with their daughters Mara Heller, 16, and Kara Heller, 11.

The 450-foot-wide landslide cut off residents living south of Mile 11 on the Zimovia Highway for roughly a week. Some residents evacuated while others used generators and relied on supplies ferried in by boat. Power was restored this week and the road was partially reopened to residents only.

Search and rescue volunteers and a dog team continued searching the debris Friday as crews cleared and hauled away truckloads of rock, trees and mud from the area.


There were 46 volunteer searchers, including firefighters, support staff and specially trained search and rescue team members, said troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain. The search and rescue team has four specially trained dogs on scene, he said.

Search and rescue crews were focusing efforts on areas they were previously unable to reach and anyplace where the dog has indicated the potential presence of a person, DeSpain said.

One of the high-priority search areas was where the debris entered the water, so canine crews were timing their searches with the tides, the city wrote online. Other volunteers searched the area by boat during high tide, they said.

Rain continued throughout the week, but it hasn’t hampered search efforts or debris removal, DeSpain said. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has been using drones daily to map the area and detect any movement or instability in the area to make sure it’s safe for crews to continue, he said.