Butch Kerzner dies in helicopter crash

Resort tycoon Howard “Butch” Kerzner was killed along with three others when the helicopter in which they were traveling crashed into a building on the Dominican Republic’s north coast, an aviation official said.

The helicopter carrying Kerzner, chief executive officer of Kerzner International, a Bahamas-based casino and resort operator, went down at 2.15pm (6.15pm GMT) on Wednesday in the popular tourist resort of Sosua, said Yolanda Manan, a spokesperson for the Dominican airport authority.

In the Bahamas, where the company’s flagship Atlantis resort is the second-largest employer behind the government, Prime Minister Perry Christie said it was “a sad moment for our nation”.

“Our only comfort is the certain knowledge we have that Butch’s work in the Bahamas will continue on pace and that his vision for Atlantis and for Bahamian tourism will be brought to fruition,” Christie said at a news conference on Wednesday night.

Kerzner (42) was surveying potential development sites in the Dominican Republic when the helicopter crashed on the roof of a business that grows ornamental plants.

Two officers in the Dominican armed forces, David Rosario Pimentel and Kevelier Matos, also died in the crash, said civil aviation spokesperson Angel de la Rosa.

The fourth victim was Delio Luis Gonzalez, Manan said. The online Dominican newspaper Clave Digital identified him as the son of a United States-based real estate investor who had worked with Kerzner International. His nationality was not known.

A commission was investigating what caused the Robinson 44 helicopter to crash.

Kerzner, who was born and grew up in South Africa and earned an MBA from Stanford University, is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and two young children, the company said.

His father, Sol Kerzner, was born in Johannesburg and built a casino empire in the South African homelands.
In 1997, he successfully blocked a book, Kerzner

Unauthorized” by journalist Allan Greenblo, which accused him of corrupt dealings with the apartheid government, and of profiteering from apartheid policies.

Sol Kerzner, who is now chairperson of Kerzner International’s board, was en route to the Dominican Republic.

“It is with great sadness that the entire company mourns the tragic loss of Butch Kerzner,” the company said in a statement.

Kerzner International has stakes in five resorts in Mauritius, one in Mexico and manages a resort in Dubai. It developed and owns nearly 70% of the Bahamas’ Paradise Island, home to its 2 300-room Atlantis casino resort, which includes a man-made marine habitat and 24 hectares of pools.

The company also developed and receives income from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.

The company went private in September, when Butch Kerzner and his father led a group of investors in a $3,8-billion buyout. Kerzner is one of several companies bidding to build a casino resort in Singapore.

Paul O’Neil, former president and managing director of Kerzner International, has been named to replace Butch Kerzner, the company said. - Sapa-AP

Kerzner International, based in the Bahamas, is nearing completion of about $1-billion in expansions at its Bahamas resort and is constructing a second $1,5-billion Atlantis-branded resort in Dubai.

Butch Kerzner told Reuters in an interview last month the company was also eyeing Las Vegas as a potential site for a multibillion-dollar Atlantis resort.

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