Desperation Made Us Do It.
If you’ve read my writings in the past you know I live in the middle of bush Alaska. This year the weather has been much warmer than usual so the temperature has often hoovered around freezing. One day it snows so everything is nice. The next day, the temperature rises so the snow starts melting and ice slides off the roofs until the evening when the temperature drops and the liquid freezes into sheets of glare ice.
Its been like that so far this year and it doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon. Consequently, planes are unable to fly every day. So the planes are able to fly for one or two days, then nothing more for another couple of days. The mail has gotten backed up and is a few weeks behind.
For people traveling this Christmas season, it has created some serious issues. My district had classes until this past Wednesday, December 20th, before releasing everyone for the holidays. There was one plane that flew that day but by the time school ended, the weather changed and nothing flew that evening , and no one got out.
Thursday morning, a plane flew out bringing a load of people. As is common, planes notify the village via VHF they are about 20 minutes out to check on conditions, alert people they have to get up to the airport (no terminals), and update the airline agents. In this case, the pilot was told he could not land due to an extremely icy runway. He had to turn around.
Unfortunately, the man who keeps the runways clear and usable was on that plane. One of the agents, called the Department of Transportation to get permission for one of the residents to work on the icy runway. It was granted but the runway wasn’t usable until around 1:30.
The airlines sent two planes out but by the time they arrived the ceiling had dropped with blowing snow and increased wind. The pilot flew by twice before turning back. That was it for the rest of the day. The air in the truck turned blue with extremely descriptive curse words. About 10 minutes later, the agent came on the VHF to announce all flights had been canceled for the rest of the day.
We all went home and waited till the next day. By this time, we were trying to figure way out of the village. So the next morning, someone called a charter business to see if they could send a plane but they couldn’t make it out till Saturday. We reserved it but still hung out by the VHF, hoping for something.
This time it was the hub in Bethel that had an extremely icy runway and high cross winds. Around 10:30, one of the ladies got the bright idea to call and check out the cost of a helicopter because they do not need a runway to land and they can fly in weather planes cannot.
Although the price per person was higher than we liked (just over $1000 per person) we went with it because it might be our only chance to get out and the latest predictions indicated we’d be stuck until at least December 26th. None of us were willing to chance it.
We got to Bethel safely, only to find the helicopter could not go out again due to weather issues and all flights headed to Anchorage had been canceled due to a significant crosswind. We checked in, praying the wind would calm down so we could leave.
The huge plane arrived safely discharging its load and they loaded us up but we left an hour late because they wanted to get as many people on the flight as possible. There were no empty seats. I was thrilled to finally arrive in Anchorage around 11pm.
Next year, we’ve decided to set a charter up so we can get out on our schedule, rather than the airlines. If we’d have chartered a flight to leave right after school ended, we could have gotten out but the 2 hour delay gave the weather a chance to get nasty.