Sporadic equipment failure leaves some travelers stranded in Yakutat

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While stuck in Yakutat due to a malfunction in National Weather Service equipment, Norton Gregory, a resident of Juneau, saw this sunrise in Yakutat on December 3, 2021. (Photo courtesy of courtesy of Norton Gregory)

A day trip to Yakutat turned into an extended three-night stay for a Juneau resident due to a weather station malfunction preventing planes from taking off. This is a recurring problem for the community, which for most of the year is only connected by air transport.

Juneau resident Norton Gregory was heading to Yakutat for a day trip for work on December 1. The Alaska Airlines jet landed with him on board. But when the plane took off later, only the crew members were on board because one piece of equipment was not working and airlines cannot take off from Yakutat with passengers on the plane without it.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations require airlines to have information such as wind speed, direction, temperature, and cloud cover in order to take off or land.

Airlines can obtain this information from human weather observers or automated weather systems. Yakutat once had a weather observer but hasn’t had one for a long time. Thus, airlines serving the community must rely on the automated weather system known as the Automated Surface Observation System, or ASOS.

Due to FAA regulations, the airline cannot take off without it, even though the weather is fine.

This left Gregory stranded in the remote community known – among other things – for his surfing.

“You know, I thought I could probably go get a surfboard from Icy Waves Surf Shop and give it a try,” he said. “Yeah, I think you’re sort of, you’re at their will, you’re at the airlines’ will when something like that happens.”

The only other option for Gregory to return home besides waiting for ASOS to be fixed was to charter a flight with Alaska Seaplanes. And that comes with a hefty price tag; it’s about $ 5,000 for the charter from Juneau to Yakutat and back.

It wasn’t a completely negative experience for Gregory. In his extra three days, he was able to see friends he hadn’t seen in a while, meet the village dogs, and see a wintry sunrise in Yakutat.

“You know, it’s a beautiful place to be stranded,” he said.

Gregory said he was lucky he didn’t have urgent commitments, but said others may have needed to take flights or go to doctor’s appointments in d ‘other communities.

“It’s just village life I think for these people, I think maybe they’re a little more used to than me. But, you know, I don’t think that’s something we should be. regulars, I think these people deserve scheduled air service, ”he said.

City mayor Cindy Bremner said this has been a problem for more than two years now, but it was Yakutat’s longest outage. This created a lot of problems for residents trying to move outside of the community.

People were stranded in Anchorage, Juneau and Seattle. With an extra week added to their trip, expenses can quickly increase.

And that’s not just a problem for residents who want to be able to travel in and out of the community.

“We rely on the airline for everything from our errands to see the doctor to, unfortunately, in this latest outage we’ve had a few deaths in our community and that’s also how they are transported to the office. medical examiner and this was not possible. happen for a few days, ”Bremner said.

A resident ended up calling a charter for the deceased because they were unsure if the issue would be resolved in time. When the same problem happened in October, some residents were on their way to a funeral. They – and the deceased person – were stuck in Anchorage until ASOS was fixed.

Bremner wants to find a permanent solution to this problem as the community depends on air travel for almost everything. They cannot use a ferry as a backup option.

“We don’t have regular ferry service in the winter and quite sporadic even in the summer,” said Bremner. “So it doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, we still need to sort this out so that we can get our airline here every day. “

Chartering a plane is expensive and many people cannot afford it. But in an emergency, sometimes people have to shoulder that cost.

“There was a gentleman who had to go out for his dialysis, and it’s not something you can just put off if you want to live,” she said.

Bremner hopes that with the collaboration of the Yakutat community, Alaska Airlines and the National Weather Service, they can find a permanent solution.

Over the weekend, this meteorological equipment broke down again, just days after it was repaired. This resulted in the cancellation of another flight. However, on the evening of December 11, Alaska Airlines flight tracks show that the flights were once again able to land at Yakutat Airport.

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