MY LORAN TALES #1
By Ned Stevens
THE PLANE THAT LANDED WHEN THE RUNWAY WAS CLOSED.
Don't think this is an exaggerated yarn. I can verify the truthfulness of it - I flew to and from Adak a half a dozen times on Reeve Aleutian Airlines. These pilots were not only amazing but were absolutely astounding. I remember one flight when I had a large piece of wrapped moose meat as a seat partner and was fed from a large stew pot with some of the contents ladled into a soup bowl. Not for the faint hearted. - Jack
Before getting to the story some background information needs to be presented. Having served two years in Alaska on remote islands I have some first hand experience with weather conditions and have made some observations. One observation is that I think the pilots who flew the same routes over and over, got to know the air like one would learn a road when driven many times.
I was stationed at Sitkinak Loran Station located South east of Kodiak. The station was serviced by Coast Guard C-130 aircraft and small planes from Kodiak airways. On plane days we would call Kodiak airways on the high frequency radio and report our weather conditions. They generally used our report in the decision process to fly to the island. On one particular day we called and gave our weather conditions, which were clear sky and no snow coming down but snow on the ground.
When they were about 10 minutes away a snow storm started. The snow was coming down real heavy and we couldn’t see what seemed to be ten feet ahead of us. We reported that to Kodiak airways and they acknowledged our report. About 10 minutes later they were on the ground.
The story I really want to tell about is about Reeve Aleutian Airways landing at Shemya Air Force station.
I was stationed at Loran Station, Attu Island Alaska which is the last island in the Aleutian chain. In fact the international date line jogs around the Aleutian chain. Attu Loran station was supplied by Coast Guard C-130’s and Reeve Aleutian Airways. We generally had Reeve arrive three days a week with mail and some cargo depending on weather and other factors. About thirty miles to the east of us was Shemya Air Force station. The Loran station had a microwave radio link with Shemya. The primary purpose of the link was a monitoring site on Attu that we maintained with the data collected sent via the microwave link to Shemya. The same link enabled Attu to have a telephone and Armed Forces Radio back to Attu. On plane days the Armed Forces radio was replaced with the runway tower radio, so we could hear the arrival of Reeve Aleutian Airways to and from Shemya. In those days Reeve Aleutian would leave Anchorage fly out the Aleutians making stops at places like Cold Bay, Cold Harbor, Adak, Shemya, and Attu. On the way back to Anchorage it was a direct shot from Shemya to Anchorage.
Reeve Aleutian would generally stop at Shemya, off load all passengers that were not going to Attu, fly to Attu, unload cargo, and passengers, load passengers and mail and fly back to Shemya, load and then fly to Anchorage.
On this particular day the following conversation was heard on the microwave radio link. “Shemya Tower, this is Reeve Aleutian 3 calling”, “Reeve Aleutian this is Shemya Tower, be advised our runway is closed due to weather,”
“Shemya Tower, Reeve Aleutian 3, be advised we are on the ground, please turn on the landing lights so we can find your terminal building”.
I was not surprised at this ending.
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