Hanover High graduate killed in Alaskan helicopter crash


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-29-2021 8:31 PM

HANOVER — On a warm morning some three decades ago, Sean McManamy was waiting for the school bus to kindergarten when he turned to his mother with revelation.

“Mom, I am never going to work in an office,” Barbara Fildes remembers her son telling her. “I’m going to work outside.”

Over the next 30 years, McManamy never lost sight of that promise. After his youth in Hanover, he spent years skiing in Colorado, studying avalanches in Anchorage, leading heli-skiing trips in Chile, and spending months surfing in Mexico with his wife, Fildes remembered.

“That’s who he was. Regardless of weather, regardless of terrain, regardless of challenges, Sean was an outdoor kid,” Fildes said with a smile on Monday.

McManamy, 38, died on Saturday in a helicopter crash by the Knick Glacier just outside of Anchorage, Alaska, according to news reports and family members.

McManamy, a heli-skiing guide, was on board the helicopter, along with fellow guide Greg Harms, 52; Petr Kellner, 56, a billionaire from the Czech Republic; Benjamin Larochaix, 50, a Czech Republic resident; and pilot Zachary Russell, 33. All five died. A sixth person, who was not named, survived the crash, the Associated Press reported.

Despite the tragic loss, his memory evoked smiles on Monday as friends and family recalled the outgoing outdoors enthusiast who they described as full of life, adventure and a deep care for his loved ones.

“Sean was truly larger than life, both in terms of his physical size, towering over most of us, but also in his ability to take over a room with his booming voice, his gregarious laugh and his always positive personality,” friend Gabe Spitzer, who grew up with McManamy in Hanover, wrote in an email Monday.

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Born in Connecticut, McManamy moved with his family when he was 6 years old to Hanover, where Fildes said her son flourished in the outdoors.

“He took to the Upper Valley immediately,” she said, adding that love for nature only intensified when he went to Camp Belknap, an all-boys summer camp in Tuftonboro, N.H. From his teenage years through the beginning of college, McManamy spent his summers at the camp, hiking and exploring the woods of New Hampshire and deepening his passion for the outdoors.

As he maneuvered through middle and high school, McManamy made a close group of friends, who would remain like brothers to him through the rest of his life.

“Throughout it all he has been a constant force of love, humor, support, listening, deep connection, and most of all fun,” one of those friends, Mitchell Bacon, wrote in an email Monday. “At every stage of my life, Sean was there.”

A key to McManamy’s ability to make friends was his acceptance of everyone, said another lifelong friend from Hanover, Alex Mackay.

“He was a person you could completely bare your soul to … and he would never judge you,” Mackay added.

After he graduated from Hanover High School in 2001, McManamy moved to Colorado and then Alaska to study snow science at Alaska Pacific University. Not one for academics as a teenager, McManamy flourished in his new environment, and took to snow science — and the study of avalanches, specifically — with a passion, Fildes said.

“That’s the first time he was set on fire, intellectually,” she said.

McManamy found a home and an even deeper passion among the snow and backwoods terrains of Alaska. He was involved in missions to rescue hikers and skiers trapped following avalanches; he worked as a guide for Mountain Trip leading groups on multiple hikes up Denali; and he guided people on helicopter-ski expeditions.

His decision to move to Alaska gave him another gift when he met Caitlin Hague, a heli-skiing guide.

Equally adventurous and passionate about the outdoors, Hague and McManamy quickly fell in love and dated for more than a decade before marrying in Mexico in 2019.

“They were life partners,” Mackay said, adding that McManamy had never been ‘serious’ about a girlfriend until he met his future wife. “They were best friends.”

McManamy often brought his friends and family members on his adventures. On one occasion, Fildes said she remembers accompanying her son on a trip up a mountain in Colorado when the two reached a cliff-like incline.

“ ‘Mom, where do you want to drop in?’ ” Fildes remembered him asking. “He completely overestimated my abilities.”

Mackay had a similar experience several years ago, when he met McManamy in Alaska to go skiing. McManamy brought him by helicopter to the top of a mountain to ski down the untraversed terrain.

“I had never done anything like that,” Mackay said with a laugh, remembering how his friend guided him every step, turn and steep drop down. “There’s only one person I would have done that with, and it’s him. ... He was one of the best people in the world at taking care of people in their most vulnerable situations.”

It was a sentiment shared by many who spoke about McManamy’s life on Monday.

“He brought a lot of laughter to my life,” said one of his lifelong friends from Hanover, Chris Baker. “He was always there in a time when I needed him.”

That innate drive to care for people extended beyond McManamy’s friends, to strangers and people he had just met while hiking. Fildes recalls how her son carried hikers down the mountain after they were struck with altitude sickness, or when he held his friend for warmth during a particularly blistery and freezing night camping on top of the mountain.

“He literally wouldn’t think twice about that,” she said.

While most of his years were full of adventure and travel, Fildes said her son always came home to Hanover to rest.

“He knew that resting his soul was important, and his body needed a break,” she said.

In the fall months, as the leaves changed in the Upper Valley, McManamy would spend quiet hours reading at his mother’s home or writing poetry in his journal.

He even taught himself to cook, often eschewing recipes and instead swinging open the pantry doors in his family’s kitchen to make whatever dish he could imagine. Mexican food was a favorite, Fildes said.

“He was very much a homebody,” she said. “He would come to the Upper Valley and revel being locked in the house, cooking three meals a day.”

For Mackay, the memories of McManamy’s friendship, and the knowledge that he unabashedly pursued his passions, has provided a sense of comfort amid the loss.

“He was like this burning bright light that we all got to dance around,” Mackay said. “We all feel so grateful that we got to spend time with him.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.