Tag Archives: flying
We were in the calm between the storms when I took this photo. It gives a good look at life on Alaska’s tundra. The airstrip for the village is in the background, with the hanger, housing the grader/snowplow, on the horizon. A plane had not been able to land for several days, and it would be several more before one came in. People were going about their business: walking or riding a four wheeler or snowmachine. Dogs roamed about, on their own personal business, as well. “Bear”, my seemingly constant canine companion, was sitting in the snow at my side, taking in all the action with me.
Camera: Widelux FVI; Film: Kodak 35mm, Tri-X400
Some regular readers may remember that I was out in the village of Newtok in February. I truly enjoyed my time there, and have great memories of the area, but especially the people.
Newtok is currently in the middle of a move. The village is under siege from the very water that gives it life. Due to the warming of the Arctic, ground is giving way, and Newtok is getting it from every direction. On one hand, the river is laying claim to huge chunks of land, taking homes with the shoreline. On the other hand, the ground is giving way to the melting permafrost, and water is filling in the gaps. In February, approximately one third of the population had moved across the river to the new location of Mertarvik, but it is going to be a long and complicated process.
Newtok made the news again this past week, when word made it around Alaska, that the generator that powers the village broke down, leaving the residents without power for an entire month. A month. In an age when most of us think about power very briefly, when we flip a switch or pay the electric bill, it’s good to remember that not everyone lives in such a situation.
Looking at the village from the air in the summer, it’s an entirely different world than when I was there in February. The contrast is stunning, so I thought I’d share a few more “winter” pictures of my time in Newtok.
In August of 1935, Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, flew throughout the then Territory of Alaska. Post, a well known aviator, would fly the Lockheed Orion-Explorer, while Rogers pounded out newspaper columns on his typewriter.
They left Fairbanks on August 15 for Barrow. Encountering terrible weather, they managed to find a break in the fog, and landed their floatplane on the waters of Walakpa Bay, and asked some Inupiat hunters where they were.
“15 miles from Barrow.”
Post & Rogers returned to the plane, and took off. At an altitude of approximately 50 feet, the engine died, and the plane nosed-dived into the lagoon. The engine was driven back into the cabin, and crushed Post. Rogers was thrown from the plane. Both men appeared to die instantly.
Will Rogers was easily the most recognized and beloved celebrity at the time of his death. His columns were read by an estimated 40 million people, and syndicated in over 600 newspapers.
Post was a famed aviator, and the two men had planned on flying across the Bering Sea to Siberia after their stops in Alaska. A Trans-Siberian flight on to Moscow was also part of the agenda.
Two metal crosses were constructed to honor both Post and Rogers.
The crosses were deemed too heavy to transport by air from Fairbanks to the crash site near the Walakpa River, and approximately 11 miles from the community of Barrow.
The crosses are displayed at the Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks.
Last summer, back in the days when I was volunteering to self-isolate, I was out at a lake cabin and happened to see a wildfire gets its start from lightning.
The following day, a pair of water scoopers showed up at the lake. They would fly overhead, bank around the lake, skim across the top of the lake, picking up their load of water, then take off again to fly back to the fire. The two aircraft made the roundtrip from fire to lake to fire, all day long.
Camera: Leica M3; Lens: Leitz 135mm; Film: Fujichrome, 35mm, Velvia100
I flew out to King Salmon on PenAir, also known as Peninsula Airways. I’ve always liked PenAir and their Saab 2000’s, although the airline is now under the Ravn banner. The twin engine turboprop usually offers a smooth ride out to some of Alaska’s more remote locations.
We landed in King Salmon, and drove over to Naknek. This is fishing country, both commercial & sport. Salmon is king here. Anti Pebble Mine signs were everywhere. No surprise that the fishing communities did not want to see the world’s largest open pit mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
We located our accommodations for our stay, only to find out that there was no heat in the building. Only in Alaska would the proprietor think that heat was an option. After scouring Naknek, we ended up back in King Salmon for our room & board.
Sitting in the emergency row on the Saab2000 does not really offer much of an advantage. It definitely cuts down on the view.
The flight to Newtok took us across a vast expanse of seemingly endless white. As far as one could see, from one horizon to the other, nothing but white. Out here, the wind is an artist, leaving mesmerizing patterns in the snow. Even in the air with two other people, I could feel the grip of isolation.
Earlier in the month, four children became lost in blizzard conditions out here, when they went out on a snow machine. It was not hard to imagine losing your bearing, especially when the wind picked up. The kids were found, huddled around the youngest to keep him warm. They were flown to Bethel with severe hypothermia, but they were alive, against long odds.
That’s the village of Newtok, with the airstrip dead ahead. It’s located on a bend in the Ningaluk River. River erosion and the melting of the permafrost is taking a huge toll on the village, forcing a move to a new location.
I had the opportunity to travel out to Newtok, Alaska this month. Newtok is a Yup’ik village on the Ningaluk River, on Alaska’s southwestern coast.
I flew to Anchorage, only to have the Ravn Air flight cancelled due to mechanical issues. The next day, the flight did leave Anchorage for Bethel, but the flight to Newtok was called off due to heavy winds, and drifting snow across the Newtok airstrip. Day three proved to be the charm, as the Grant Aviation flight left Bethel for Newtok.
Of the five of us, three went in the aircraft pictured above. I flew out in a much smaller Cessna with the pilot and one other passenger. I can’t say enough good things about the people with Grant Aviation. A class organization all the way through. Even though Bethel is not an inexpensive place to find oneself stranded, I had a good time there. Taxi rides are $5-8 per person, per ride, depending on distance, and take out food seems to dominate the options.
The Cessna took a little less than an hour to get from Bethel to Newtok, flying 120 knots, at 2000 feet above the ground.
Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, T-Max 100
A rather cheeky response to Western Airlines. This was probably a local advert; I spotted it at the Pioneer Air Museum. It certainly would have been a hit in Alaska in the 1970’s.
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