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How could an airport ground crew employee steal and fly an airliner?

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 16:11

A plane flies past a control tower at Sea-Tac International Airport Friday evening, Aug. 10, 2018, in SeaTac, Wash. An airline mechanic stole an Alaska Airlines plane without any passengers and took off from Sea-Tac International Airport in Washington state on Friday night before crashing near Ketron Island, officials said. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A picture of how an airliner was stolen from Sea-Tac International Airport on Friday evening is beginning to emerge.

Investigators and airline officials are tracing the sequence of events that led to a Horizon Air employee taking off without permission in one of the company's turboprop passenger planes.

Findings, when they come, will almost certainly lead to changes in aviation protocols.

[Report: Airline employee who stole Sea-Tac plane previously from Wasilla]

The plane crashed on Ketron Island, off the shore of Steilacoom, killing the pilot — the only person on board.

The alleged thief, identified in audio recordings as Rich, was not employed as a pilot. He was identified as a ground service agent Friday by Alaska Airlines, Horizon's parent corporation. On Saturday, Alaska said he handled baggage and towed aircraft at the airport.

The man used that tow knowledge to rotate the plane 180 degrees while it was parked in a cargo area Friday evening, Alaska officials said. After that, he started the plan, taxied to a runway and took off.

He appeared to be suicidal, based on his conversations with air traffic control. But the potential for a disaster, if Rich had wished to harm others, is sobering.

As the incident unfolded in the skies over Puget Sound, a Pearl Jam concert was being held at Safeco Field, and the plane traveled over highly populated residential and commercial areas.

Aviation consultant and retired airline pilot Dan Stratman told The News Tribune that it wouldn't have been unusual for an individual working in ground support to have access to the cockpit.

"Even just ground people working on the planes, they have access to inside the planes on ramp," Stratman said. "He could have just sat in the cockpit, and no one would have thought otherwise, being in the plane with a badge."

Stratman, author of aviation thriller "Mayday," said ground crews don't go through psychological screening.

Most ground crew members working at airports have a "basic knowledge" of how airplanes function, said Debra Eckrote, NTSB regional chief.

No records for a pilot license for the man thought to have stolen the plane could be found on the Federal Aviation Administration website. Alaska officials said, to the best of the airline's knowledge, the man did not have a pilot license.

A pilot who regularly flies in and out of Sea-Tac for a commercial carrier said on Friday that an employee who was "taxi qualified" could combine that knowledge with YouTube videos and easily purchased computer flight simulator programs to learn to fly an airplane.

Stratman agreed and said Microsoft simulators are available online with extremely accurate representations.

The commercial pilot, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said the Bombardier Q400 aircraft has the same autopilot systems used on Boeing and Airbus jets. It didn't appear Rich used autopilot Friday.

[Man who took Horizon Air plane from Sea-Tac was quiet and well liked, says former co-worker]

The stolen plane is a twin-engine turboprop designed for shorter distance flights. It can carry 76 passengers and has boarding doors in both the front and rear of the plane.

In conversations with a pilot on the ground, it appeared Rich wasn't fully knowledgeable with the plane's instruments yet knew enough about flying to perform aerobatics with the airliner.

The working commercial pilot said if the weather is clear, as it was Friday, instrument knowledge isn't as crucial to flying as it is at night or in poor weather.

At one point, Rich flew the plane upside down in a barrel roll, coming within feet of the water before pulling up. Rich complained of feeling lightheaded.

"I would like to get some, uh, make it pressurized or something so I'm not so light-headed," Rich told ground control.

A plane flying at low altitude doesn't need to be pressurized.

"He never got to high altitude, and there should have been no problem with pressurization," pilot Stratman said.

"More likely if he was lightheaded, that was caused by the aerobatics," Stratman said in a phone interview from Kansas City. "That can throw your inner ear out of balance, even for an experienced pilot it can make you dizzy and queasy."

Alaska said the plane was parked in a "maintenance position" in a cargo area of the airport and not involved with loading or unloading passengers.

There are no keys to an airliner. Planes are turned on using a variety of switches.

It will be up the FBI to get to the bottom of how he did it and why, Eckrote said.

Man who took Horizon Air plane from Sea-Tac was quiet and well liked, says former co-worker

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 16:09

Traffic arrives at Sea-Tac International Airport terminal Friday evening, Aug. 10, 2018, in SeaTac, Wash. An airline mechanic stole an Alaska Airlines plane without any passengers and took off from Sea-Tac International Airport in Washington state on Friday night before crashing near Ketron Island, officials said.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The airline employee who took a plane from Sea-Tac Airport on Friday night and performed mid-air stunts over South Puget Sound before crashing on an island was 29-year-old Richard Russell, according to multiple sources, including one in law enforcement.

"He was a quiet guy. It seemed like he was well liked by the other workers," said Rick Christenson, an operational supervisor with Horizon Air who retired in May. "I feel really bad for Richard and for his family. I hope they can make it through this."

Russell was presumed killed in the crash of the Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 turboprop on Ketron Island, just west of Steilacoom. Investigators were searching the site Saturday.

A man who answered the door of the Graham home of Russell's mother-in-law Saturday afternoon said the family is in shock and were awaiting more information before speaking to the media. Relatives were arriving at the home as members of the media gathered outside.

Russell worked as a member of Horizon's tow team, Christenson said, and helped handle baggage for the airline.

[Report: Airline employee who stole and crashed Sea-Tac plane had lived in Wasilla]

Two-person tow teams are responsible for moving airplanes on the tarmac. One person drives a tow tug, pulling the plane. The other communicates with the tower from inside the airplane's cockpit and can apply the plane's brakes in an emergency, Christenson said.

Tow teams are trained how to use some airplane systems such as the auxiliary power unit, hydraulics and radios, said Christenson, who did not know Russell well.

Before he realized Russell was involved, Christenson watched as the incident played out Friday night. Christenson was sitting on the deck outside his cousin's home, looking out at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and Puget Sound as the sun reddened and fell into summer's haze.

"It was absolutely beautiful," he said.

Suddenly, two F-15 fighter jets appeared, and took a hard turn south.

"I said, something's weird. Something's not right here."

Ten minutes later, he said, a commercial plane cruised about 500 feet above his cousin's home, he said.

"We got binoculars and were watching him. He was flying real strange, hard banks, real radical flying for a Dash-8," Christenson said.

The plane would plunge toward the water in a nose dive.

"We were all screaming, 'Oh my god, oh my god,' and I was yelling, 'Pull up, pull up,' " Christenson said.

Somehow, the plane pulled out of a descent, seemingly just feet from the water.

Later, when he saw a pool of black smoke farther south, "I knew what happened," Christenson said.

Word soon spread among former colleagues.

"Everybody's stunned … that something like this would happen," Christenson said. "How could it? Everybody's been through background checks."

He said it was difficult to listen to the audio, widely published on news websites, as Russell communicated with an air traffic controller.

"It's chilling listening to this young man. It makes me cringe," Christenson said. "It was hard to sleep last night."

I'm listening through the archive of the radio chatter on the #seatac hijacking. Below are some of the clips. pic.twitter.com/ziBAYv7cgn

— Jimmy Thomson (@jwsthomson) August 11, 2018

Airline and law enforcement officials did not publicly confirm Russell's identity, but provided some details of his background and how he acquired the plane.

"He worked a shift yesterday. We believe he was in uniform," said Brad Tilden, the chief executive officer of Alaska Air Group, which is the parent company to Horizon Air. "It was his job to be around airplanes."

[How could an airport ground crew employee steal and fly an airliner?]

Tilden, speaking at a news conference at Sea-Tac Airport, said Russell had been with the company for nearly four years.

Tilden said the plane was parked at Plane Cargo 1, in the north side of the airport. The plane was not scheduled to fly Friday evening.

"The individual did use a pushback tractor to rotate the aircraft 180 degrees so he could then taxi the aircraft," said Mike Ehl, a Port of Seattle official, confirming that the man did that himself, first driving the tractor and then the plane.

Just after 7:30 p.m., Russell took off. Tilden said the traffic-control tower "did know this was an unauthorized departure."

Horizon CEO Gary Beck said the ground-service agent, who is not believed to have a pilot's license, pulled off some "incredible maneuvers" once airborne. "Commercial aircraft are complex machines," he said. "So I don't know how he achieved the experience that he did."

Authorities believe the crash involved one person. "I think at this time we believe he was the only one in the aircraft. But of course we haven't confirmed that at the crash site," said Jay S. Tabb Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI's Seattle division.

Asked about Russell's mental state, Tabb said, "It's way too early to comment on that. I'm sorry."

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department on Friday night speculated Russell may have crashed the plane intentionally.

According to sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer, that theory was based on Russell's recorded conversation with air traffic control and at least one pilot who were trying to talk the man they called "Rich" into a safe landing.

Russell said at one point that he didn't know how to land the plane and "wasn't really planning on landing it." He also apologized to all the people who loved him, who he said would be disappointed with his actions.

The audio recording also seems to indicate that Russell was weighing the consequences of his actions. He said he didn't want to land at Joint Base Lewis-McChord because he was concerned people would "rough" him up there and said, "This is probably like, uh, jail time for life, huh?"

Toward the end of the recording, after he has apparently completed an aerial maneuver, a pilot said, "Congratulations. You did that. Now let's try to land that airplane safely and not hurt anybody on the ground."

Russell responded, "Ah, dammit. I don't want to. I don't want to. I was kind of hoping that was going to be it."

Some audio from the exchanges is unclear and provides a murky window into his thinking.

"Think I'm gonna try to do a barrel roll and if that goes good, I'm just going to nose it down and call it a night," he said toward the end of the recorded audio. What he meant by "nose it down" was unclear.

Russell was born in Key West, Florida and moved to Wasilla, Alaska at age 7, according to a blog he apparently maintained through December 2017. Biographical details in the blog posts correspond to information provided by authorities, including the city in which Russell lived, his age and the details of his employment.

The blog also links to social media websites that use the nickname "Beebo" Russell. Biographical information on those sites also correspond to what authorities have shared about Russell.

On the blog, Russell says he met his wife in Coos Bay, Oregon, in 2010 while both were going to school.

They married one year later and one month after that they opened a bakery in Oregon, which they ran successfully for three years.

Russell, who didn't have baking experience, was his wife's apprentice, he told the Coos Bay World for a 2012 article. She told the newspaper Russell was laid-back and liked to tinker with experimental recipes.

Russell was active as a leader in the Christian youth ministry, Young Life.

"He was very, very friendly — automatically willing to bring everyone in. He was very involved in the youth if somebody needed to talk," said Hannah Holmes, now 25. "A lot of the people he was helping were troubled kids."

Holmes said Russell had a penchant for writing, and would sometimes ask her for short story writing prompts.

In 2015, Russell and his wife moved to Washington "because we were both so far removed from our families," he wrote in the blog. " … we settled on Sumner because of its close proximity to her family."

Russell says he got a job working for Horizon Airlines and used his travel benefits to fly up to Alaska. Videos posted on his blog detailed visits to Dublin, Ireland, Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska, and southeastern France.

"In this season of life we enjoy exploring as much as possible, whether its a day (or so) trip to one of Alaska Airline's destinations, or visiting a new area of Washington. "We consider ourselves bakery connoisseurs and have to try a new one every place we go," he wrote.

At times Friday, it sounded like Russell was sightseeing from the air.

Russell told the air traffic controller he'd flown around Mount Rainier and looked at the Olympic Mountains.

"The sights went by so fast," he said. "I was thinking I would have this moment of serenity. I would be able to take in all the sights. There was a lot of pretty stuff, but, I think they're prettier in a different context."

Seattle Times staff reporters Scott Greenstone, Agueda Pacheco-Flores, Matt Day, Daniel Beekman and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.

From Anchorage to Fairbanks, infidelity and its aftermath in new collection of short stories, ‘In the Quiet Season’

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 15:21

In the Quiet Season

Martha Amore, University of Alaska Press/Alaska Literary Series, 112 pages, 2018. $16.95

“In the Quiet Season,” is a collection of short stories by Martha Amore

"In the Quiet Season," the opening story of the recent short fiction collection of the same name by Anchorage author Martha Amore, finds a couple — whose marriage has taken a deep self-inflicted wound — out gathering firewood in the forest near Fairbanks when they come across a badly injured eagle. Tara, the wife, whose recent act of infidelity is the cause of the marriage's decline, wants to save the bird by taking it to the emergency pet clinic. Her husband Ted, who serves as narrator, wants to leave it to its fate.

The bird is, of course, a metaphor for the marriage. Tara, a teacher, had cheated on Ted the previous winter, destroying 15 years of trust in one night. The choice they make in whether or not to save the eagle reflects the choice they confront in whether or not to save the marriage.

Amore, who teaches writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage, is treading on familiar ground for literary fiction. Too familiar to be honest, and she sticks with formula for the next two stories, each involving marital betrayal and little more. Twenty-eight pages and three stories in, readers can be forgiven for thinking that the book will be a collection of mundane tales of urban professionals who cheat on their spouses and nothing more. Apart from being set in Alaska, there seems to be little here that differentiates this book from work found in the average literary journal. Therefore it becomes tempting to decide that it's not going anywhere and set it aside.

This would be a mistake.

The next three stories in this collection of a half dozen take off in ways that the first three don't even suggest possible. And while infidelity remains a common theme throughout the entire set, what follows are tales that will draw readers into them in ways the first three don't.

What's lacking in the early stories is clear character development and context. The individuals are never defined beyond their marital failings. Why they cheat isn't really explained. Boredom perhaps. But when Amore turns her attention to creating more fully fleshed-out stories where the infidelity is a background factor rather than the plot driver, things begin to happen.

In "Long Weekend," a recently divorced woman named Barbara, living in her home in Anchorage, is visited by her mother, a brash character who blasts into this book and suddenly makes it seem real. Barbara's mother is a bold, hard-driving, controlling and excessively proud sort who had even named her daughter after herself. She arrives intent on taking over her daughter's life and setting it into what she considers proper order.

The elder Barbara is a whirlwind and one of the two most human characters in this book. The standoff between her and her daughter, who narrates the story, is perfectly timed by Amore, who builds the tensions between the two to the inevitable point where both have to acknowledge that their mother-daughter relationship can only remain stable if each fully acknowledges the independence of the other.

The next story, "Painkillers," is even stronger. Here we find Henry, a down-on-his-luck Anchorage resident, who is running a housekeeping business with his photographer girlfriend Anna. In this story, infidelity is suspected but never confirmed. Anna is readying for her first opening at a gallery with the help of a man Henry has not met, but whom she doesn't quit talking about.

Anna remains offstage for most of the tale, and we learn the suspicions from Henry, the narrator. We also discover that the couple has taken to stealing prescription drugs from the clients whose houses they clean. Henry is popping pills all the way through the story as he falls into an unexpected friendship with one of those customers and tries to come to terms with what he suspects is a relationship in its final throes. As his life falls apart, Henry emerges as the most sympathetic character in the book.

This is the first story to feel genuinely Alaskan, although not in the traditional way. Through Henry, Amore is exploring the hopelessness that besets poorer residents of Anchorage who find themselves in a city where things can happen that wouldn't elsewhere — like the sudden appearance of a moose downtown — but who are stuck in dead-end lives fully removed from the wilderness just beyond. It's a reality for many people in urban Alaska (and one detailed with remarkable clarity in Mary Kudenov's 2017 nonfiction book "Threadbare"). In the realm of Alaskan literature, this is an unusual setting, and all the more welcome for it.

The longest and most emotionally draining tale is the last one, "Weathered In." It begins in Talkeetna, where a young woman named Rachel and her boyfriend Karl have arrived to climb Denali. Both are restless travelers and climbers with little thought for the future. The day before departing for the mountain, Karl decides that Rachel is to be left behind, however, owing to an unknown illness.

As Rachel suspects, she's pregnant. The story follows the couple's trajectory as they decide to make their home in Alaska. Karl, however, suffering from the selfishness that's practically required of anyone who wants to climb mountains, is soon back at it, becoming an absentee father while Rachel remains home with the baby and the dog. While Karl lives his dreams, she's anchored down in Anchorage.

This story feels very Alaskan as well, what with the mountaineering. And again the infidelity, when it comes, is important to the story, though not central to it. Amore sticks with her theme but places it in a context never found in the three opening stories.

Amore creates compelling characters and interesting plots in the second half, inadvertently highlighting how the first three stories feel like throwaways. She's a writer who needs to spend more time building her characters and creating their lives. When she does this she gives readers something to hold onto.

Tourism season is winding down; that means sweet in-state deals for Alaskans

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 14:39

The view of Homer Spit and Kachemak Bay on a beautiful fall day. Lands End Resort on the spit, along with other Alaska lodges, is offering end-of-season deals. (Photo by Scott McMurren)

It's not just airlines that drop prices as fall approaches. Vacations and holidays of all sorts kick in their "value-pricing" after the peak summer travel period has ended. Those specials start at different times in different places. But the overriding theme is this: when fewer travelers are on the road, prices go down. Occasionally, there also are some special events.

Alaska Travel Adventures runs a handful of activities for cruise passengers in the southeast Alaska ports of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway: Jeep tours, kayak trips and salmon bakes. But the company also has a fleet of RVs for rent. Between now and Sept. 30, the company is running a 50 percent off sale. You have to rent the RV for at least four days. And there's a mileage charge: 35 cents a mile or $39 per day for unlimited miles. The actual cost varies by the length of the RV, how many days you rent and the specific date. The regular prices range from $129 to $249 per day. So, take 50 percent off of that. Use the discount code "Staycation 50" when you call (800-323-5757).

ABC Motorhome Rentals also has a sale for fall rentals: $99 per night between Aug. 28 and Sept. 30. There is a five-night minimum rental required. The special applies to 22-, 24- and 30-foot motorhomes (800-421-7456).

Cruise companies are not bashful about offering discounts. If you haven't seen southeast Alaska, a cruise from Seward or Whittier down the coast can be a great way to go. Checking on iCruise.com, there are several late-season specials, including:

– Norwegian Jewel, sailing on Aug. 27 from Seward. Ports include Skagway, Hoonah, Juneau, Ketchikan and Vancouver, B.C. The seven-night cruise offers cabins with ocean views for $563 per person, double occupancy.

– Star Princess, sailing on Sept. 8 from Whittier. Ports include Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Vancouver, B.C. The lowest price for the seven-night cruise is the same: $563 per person, double. But that's for an inside cabin. Upgrade to ocean view for $614 per person.

There are many other dates and ships from which to choose. All of the cross-gulf cruises that I checked end up in Vancouver, B.C. So it's up to you to buy your own air ticket back to Anchorage. The cruises also run northbound.

Down at Alyeska Resort, they have a "Summer Tram" and a "Fall Tram" package. The Summer Tram package starts on Aug. 19 for $229 per room. The package includes tram tickets for two adults and three kids. On Sept. 16, the price drops to $149 per room for the "Fall Tram" special.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Rockwell Kent's time on Fox Island in Resurrection Bay, Kenai Fjords Tours and the Anchorage Museum are hosting a dinner and lecture by historian Doug Capra. Fox Island, of course, is a much more comfortable destination now than it was 100 years ago. The special tour on Sat., Aug. 25 is from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Cost is $82 per person.

The Alaska Railroad is offering its annual "Great Alaska Beer Train" on Oct. 6. The train rolls gently along between Anchorage and Portage while passengers enjoy beer from the Glacier Brewhouse and dinner. Cost is $182 per person.

The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is putting on a fall wine dinner Sept. 15. All of the wines at the dinner will be from Rombauer Vineyards. The six-course dinner features some interesting ingredients, including elk, duck and rabbit. Cost for just the dinner is $125 per person. But it's a good idea to spend the night. Room rates start at $99 per night.

Take a drive to the end of the road at the Homer Spit this fall. Land's End Resort, at the end of the spit, offers a "Getaway Package" for overnight accommodations and dinner for two. The cost starts at $139 per room and goes up if you want a nicer room with a view of the ocean. Land's End runs this package through the winter from Sept. 19, 2018 til April 30, 2019.

[11 glacier adventures near Anchorage]

If you haven't made it out to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, maybe this is the year! Kennicott Glacier Lodge offers a late-season special for as little as $99 per night between Aug. 15 and Sept. 8. You can opt for a "glacier view" room for a little more: $169 per night. It's a five-hour drive from Anchorage to Chitina. The last 60 miles is a go-slow road, similar to the Denali Highway between Cantwell and Paxson. Thirty-five miles per hour is a good speed there. When you reach McCarthy, there's a phone by the footbridge where you can call the lodge to come and get you.

Whether you're going by land, sea or rail, there are some fun options for fall travel right here in the Great Land.

The tee box is stressful enough without politics

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 14:34

The Anchorage Golf Course on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Maintaining dignity while golfing is hard enough without bringing politics onto the tee box.

For instance, whenever I pull-hook my tee shot on a short par 4 and can't find the ball and have to walk back to the tee box only to slice the next out of bounds and then top my third drive into the rough short of the ladies' tee box (suddenly lying five), my first impulse is to helicopter that good-for-nothing, $399 driver — WHUMP whump whump — toward the dumpster in the parking lot.

But instead, I'm learning to be more dignified. I'm learning to take a deep breath, slide the big club back into my bag while realizing the error of my ways — should've used the 3 hybrid — wisdom I can now pass down, because isn't that the ultimate gift of golf and the secret to living a useful life?

Then came the day this summer when my golf buddy Tim and I got paired up with two other golfers. I knew at once my dignity would be tested.

Tim and I are golf-compatible. We know and respect each other's game. Case in point: I know that when Tim questions his game out loud, as in, "Why did I just do that?" he really doesn't want an answer. And when I chunk a chip, Tim knows it's OK to say, "That's not like you, Tony," but only after I putt out.

Anyway, we were on the first tee when two guys in a cart motored up to the box. We had already hit our drives. "Mind if we join you?" said the guy at the wheel as he got out and pulled his driver.

"I guess that was one of those rhetorical questions," I whispered to Tim.

There were the quick introductions and small talk, dominated by this guy who maintained that Oregon's golf courses are much better than Alaska's. Who could argue? His buddy said nothing. I liked that guy.

The talker laughed at his own jokes, like, "Better bring your weed whacker in there with you, ha, ha, ha." Then he did worse. He kept talking to Tim's ball, as in, "Don't go in there, ball! Don't. DON'T. Oops." I could see Tim's face redden. Tim would rather people not offer unsolicited advice to him or to his golf ball. But Tim maintained his dignity, as I did mine.

That is, until the 15th hole. We were waiting for the group ahead to clear the green. Pace of play had been slow all day. Tim knows I can get testy when groups ahead show little to no course awareness. My patience was stretched thinner because I had to listen to the talker while waiting. Fortunately, by the third hole or so I had begun to block out that noise. "Blah blah blah, Oregon." "Blah blah blah, ha, ha, ha." "Blah Blah Blah, Obama."

OK. That's e-freakin'-nuff!

"Hey, no politics on the tee box," I said, interrupting the talker.

"Ha ha. … Huh?" he said.

"No politics on the tee box. What, you don't already know that?"

I would not go as far as to say it's an unwritten rule. But in the hundreds of rounds of golf I've played with people I don't know very well, politics rarely pops up in conversation, and when it does, the topic quickly dies in awkward silence. Not so with the talker.

"I'll say my opinion wherever I please," he said. "What did Obama do? Nothing. In eight years, Nothing! Trump is doing something!"

I lost it. "Yeah, your boy is doing something, alright. He's turning America into a horse's ass!"

The talker just laughed. He knew he had me.

"You Trumpers!" I said. "I have to golf with you now?"

The quiet old man began to stir. "Hey, I voted for Trump too, by God. And I'm proud to say it."

I looked to Tim. He seemed to be embarrassed. "Can't we just golf, guys?" he said.

But the old man did not want to golf with us anymore. So Tim and I hit and walked off without them.

It occurred to me that I did not know much about Tim's politics. Did I offend Tim, too? It's funny that golf buddies can go years without knowing such things about each other.

"I'm sorry, Tim."

"Tony, I admire you for standing up to that guy."

"Well, I feel bad," I said. "I lost my dignity. And I like that old man!"

Suddenly, I walked off the 17th tee box toward the two Trumpers, driver in fist.

"Tony, don't!" Tim said.

"It's OK," I said.

I did not say anything until I got right up to them. They looked at me, ready to fight again. But I laid down my guns. Indeed, I leaned on my driver as if it were a crutch. "I'm sorry guys. I was out of line. Golf can bring out the worst in me sometimes."

The talker laughed. "Hey, we've all been there, ha ha ha." We shook hands.

Then I turned to the old man. He was the reason I came over. "Hey, I like some of what Trump is doing. But I also like some of what Obama did — or didn't do," I said. "Can we have both?"

I reached out my hand. He shook. Not very firmly. But he shook.

I returned to the tee box, twirling my driver like a baton.

"What did you say?" Tim asked.


"Why? What you said needed to be said."

"Maybe, but not by me — and not on the tee box."

Tim absolutely crushed his drive.

"Go ball, go!" I said.

Tim gave me the stink eye.

Tony Bickert is a former Alaska journalist, current teacher and avid golfer.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Letter: PFD cuts not Walker’s fault

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 13:17

Don't blame Gov. Bill Walker for cutting the dividend, blame former Sen. Mike Dunleavy and the state Senate Majority, who let the piggy bank run dry. They've been milking oil companies for campaign contributions for decades while refusing to make those companies pay what they pay other countries all around the world.

Empty piggy banks can't pay dividends.
Here is something Alaska's voters need to think about. The country of Norway has saved up 20 times as much as Alaska from the production of four times as much oil. Their oil came from deep water. It was more expensive per barrel to produce and therefore their net profit per barrel was less.

The difference is they keep between 80 percent and 90 percent of the profits, leaving 10 percent to 20 percent for the oil companies. We do close to a 50/50 split, and then we pay oil credits to oil companies from our share.
If we had kept and saved the same share of profits as Norway, our permanent fund and your dividend would both be about five times bigger today.
Blame Mike Dunleavy and the Senate Majority. Not Gov. Walker.
— Ray Metcalfe

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Pacific storm expected to bring rain, strong winds to Southcentral Alaska

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 13:16

Southcentral Alaska can expect strong winds and heavy rain through Monday as the remnants of a former typhoon sweep through the region, according to the National Weather Service.

"The system will impact Kodiak Island early Sunday morning first and move up Cook Inlet and into the inland areas by Sunday afternoon," the agency said in a special weather statement. Rain and gusty winds are expected for the areas of Cook Inlet and the Susitna Valley from Sunday afternoon to early Monday morning.

Gusts of 50 mph or greater were considered "likely" in the areas expected to see the strongest winds, Turnagain Arm and along the Copper River, forecasters said. The Knik River Valley and parts of Anchorage may see gusts around 40 mph, the weather service said.

The rainfall is expected to raise water levels in rivers and streams, with streams coming out of the Talkeetna Mountains in the Susitna Valley of greatest concern.

"These area streams will likely approach bankfull conditions by Sunday night and continue into Monday or Tuesday," the weather service said.

Meanwhile, water levels in Bear Glacier Lagoon in Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward "are high and expected to remain high through Sunday morning," the statement read.

"Persons traveling or recreating in the area are urged to remain alert for rising water levels, potential flooding, and iceberg movement over the next few days," the weather service said.

A small craft advisory was also issued for Prince William Sound, with conditions expected to reach 25-knot winds and 6-foot seas Sunday night. A gale warning for lower Cook Inlet described conditions reaching 35-knot winds and 11-foot seas Sunday afternoon and evening.

The former Typhoon Shanshan brushed along the coast of Japan earlier this week — but didn't make landfall — before moving farther northeast into the Pacific, according to The Weather Channel.

Find the latest forecast for your area at weather.gov/afc.

Letter: Be kind to the hungry

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 13:14

Thanks to Allison O'Leary for her compassionate letter about the homeless in our community. My friend from Fairbanks used to come to Anchorage regularly. She would stop in to see me and then leave to go get something to eat. She always offered to bring me something and I agreed. She never made it to my work with my food, and her story was that she gave it to a hungry person.

One night, we went over to one of the Fourth Avenue bars. On the way, we stopped in the park and sat to talk with some people on the lawn. It was a very strange experience. As we said "hi" to people walking by, no one acknowledged us — they just walked right past as if we didn't exist. I'd never felt that way before. We had bought some food and were eating it in the park, sharing it with our new friends. We realized we needed more food and took our new friends to a late-night eatery and got them some food. They were all appreciative and thankful. One man even did a beautiful Native dance for us and told us that he had danced in Washington, D.C., once for a special celebration.

Now when I see a hungry person, I try to give them food. I've stopped and bought hot sandwiches and hot chocolate to warm people on subzero nights. I've seen people stop and hand out bottles of water to keep them hydrated. I don't have much to give but am happy to share when I can. It pleases me that others do the same. Thank you, Allison, and all the others who try to help. I doubt that anyone has ever set out to be homeless and hungry. They are not invisible; they are people too. They are a part of our city, and any help we can give them is surely appreciated.
— Vicki Williams

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After dating all summer, I’m ready to go public with my new guy — but he wants ‘us’ to be a secret.

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 13:06

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

At the beginning of summer, I started seeing "Pete." We have been friends for years and I've had a crush on him a long time. I never thought it would go anywhere or that he might feel the same, so when things turned romantic with us back in May, I was so happy. The problem is we have kept our relationship a secret, and while I'm ready to go way public with it, Pete simply won't.

He says it's because it might make things weird with our friends; we regularly hang out with the same group of about 10 people, and we've all known each other for years. With the exception of one couple, there hasn't really been dating or even hookups (that I know of) within the group. The one couple that did form is really serious, practically married. Pete thinks if we tell people about us, it will mess up the group dynamics and people will treat us differently.

We got in yet another fight about this the other night because the group's annual Labor Day cabin weekend is coming up, and I told Pete he needed to ask for a private bedroom for us. He refused and said it was "too soon."

Well I stood up for myself. I said I was tired of being treated like a hookup and he needs to respect me and acknowledge our relationship. Pete said he isn't ready for that, and when I said fine, we can stop hanging out, he got teary-eyed and pleaded with me to give him time. He said he feels like he is falling for me and begged me not to give him ultimatums. I feel like two months was time enough, but I've fallen in love with him and don't want to lose him. What can I do?

Wanda says:

Meet Pete, a world-class compartmentalizer! He likes order, control, and everything tucked in neat little boxes! He also probably dines off those kiddie plastic plates that have separate areas for food so nothing touches, because ew, when things overlap like that, it's so messy and gross — or so thinks Pete, who no doubt wants everything in his life to stay the same forever and ever. Peter Pan is more like it.

With a friend squad as tight and long-standing as yours, it's unlikely a relationship or breakup with Pete would cause any worse tremors than a temporary period of awkwardness. Guess what? We're all adults, sometimes life is awkward, and it never killed anyone. Clearly the guy is scared, and nervous about his carefully arranged world getting shaken up and going sideways. Tough luck for him. Pete needs to get over it and put his big boy pants on. If he keeps you stuffed in this secret box, the resulting resentment will suffocate your affection and attraction and kill your chance at romance altogether.

Look, I'm not a huge fan of ultimatums, but I'm proud of you for sticking up for yourself and asserting Girlfriend Rights. Pete is more than a fling to you, and from his anguished and panicked reaction to your backing off, I would guess you mean quite a bit to him as well. Tell him you respect him, and that's why he's had all summer to warm to your coming out as a couple. And now it's time to just go for it. There's no reason you have to either wait for Pete's permission, or conversely, make some grand and dramatic announcement. Start by telling one or two of the friends you are close to. Trust me, everyone will know in no time – and in no time at all, it will be the new normal, and hardly a huge deal.

Wayne says:

No offense, but either your friend group isn't as tight as you think it is or they're even better at keeping secrets than you and Pete are. Frankly, I'm shocked that no one has noticed, or at least made a sarcastic accusation, that you and Pete have been hooking up.

Two people (especially when one of them is as anxious as Pete) can't sleep together and hide it from their besties for two months. You've had to at least made some slips or given off some subtle tells: a hand grazing a lower back, eyes locking across the bar, someone using "baby" in conversation, you two always "sharing an Uber" after a party.

Seriously guys, even complete strangers can smell new romance and physical chemistry in the air. It's a pungent odor! And real friends know all of your smooth moves, magic tricks, hiding spots and poker faces. So I'd bet the house that someone has a sneaking suspicion that something is going on, has announced that suspicion to others, and that your "secret relationship" is the worst-kept secret in the posse.

And even if your friends are clueless now, they won't be for very long. If you think trying-to-be-sneaky-about-dating friends is pretty awkward and obvious, try being recently-broken-up-from-a-secret-relationship friends! Everyone will feel, and smell, the tension, depression and confusion in the air — also quite pungent.

So, for Pete's sake, tell Pete to grow up and go public with you. It doesn't have to be a big production. Some simple hand-holding, a quick kiss or any basic PDA will suffice. And I'm sure they'll all be very happy for the two of you, if not relieved that you've finally confirmed what they already knew.

[Wayne and Wanda: A loving relationship — minus the 'L' word]

[My friends can't seem to accept that I'm happily dating a younger man]

Letter: Problem between steering wheel and seat

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 13:06

As I drive the highways, I notice more and more pickup trucks exceeding the posted speed limit by 10-20 mph. These pickups need to be recalled so that the loose nuts behind the wheel can be adjusted. Once that adjustment is made, the highways will be safer for all.
— Mike Gumbleton

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Letter: Turn off devices, enjoy Alaska

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 13:02

One has to wonder why tourists bother to come to places like Alaska when they are so fixated on their iPads and iPods that they are oblivious of the point of their visit in the first place — not that Alaskans are different. Don't these people have lives beyond texting and babbling nonsense?

Let's face it, we have become a bunch of dumbed-down narcissists. Now the boosters want to bring in a million yakking tourists. What fun that will be for those few of us who would like to tune these people out, get a break from all this technological nonsense and experience some of what is left of our natural heritage.
— David McCargo

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Letter: Alaska needs more bear research, protection

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 12:59

Way to go to Bill Sherwonit for his excellent commentary on bears. I completely agree that the ADN should stop printing phrases like "killer bear" and that the recent killing of three innocent bears by the Department of Fish and Game is absolutely unacceptable.

Alaska needs some type of organization to finance research and protection of our bears. Perhaps state biologists and the University of Alaska could show some leadership to help with starting the organization. Alaska should be a world leader for bear research and protection. If nothing is done, Fish and Game will continue with their standard procedure of kill the bears — end of problem.
— Doug Bartko

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Letter: Being smart in bear country

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 12:55

Thank you to Bill Sherwonit for his article concerning the foolish killing of the Anchorage and Eagle River bears. He voiced the very same questions I had, and I'm glad someone out there is raising the question about the on-and-off search for the Eagle River bear.

They said it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack and then called it off, but then announced it was back on. What's up with that? Also, in regards to the recent article about cooking camp meals, I can't figure out why people cook meat in campgrounds — doesn't the smell of sizzling bacon or sausage send a clear invite to bears? Wouldn't it be better to eat and cook less fragrant meals in camp? I love breakfast sausage, too, but at a campsite in bear country?
— Alice Hildreth

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Letter: Reject Kavanaugh

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 12:51

I can't claim to be a lawyer or legal scholar. I'm a proud journeyman electrician, and between making a living and taking care of my family, I haven't had much time to study constitutional law. But, I do understand the fundamental ideas that this country stands for. And as an American, I expect our legal system to live up to those principles.

I expect the law to not be swayed by access and wealth. I expect political influence to be checked at the door of any courthouse — most of all at the steps of the Supreme Court. And I expect the men and women chosen to serve in those offices to share that commitment to equality and fairness.

Brett Kavanaugh has spent his entire career doing just the opposite, serving the interests of corporations and ruling against the basic rights of working families. This is an easy decision. For the sake of hardworking Alaskans and working people everywhere, I am counting on Sen. Lisa Murkowski to stand up for Alaskans and vote against this nomination and demand someone committed to equal justice under the law.
— Ryan Andrew

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Letter: Police should emulate Dimond Center security

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 12:49

I am at the Dimond Center almost daily. I see the folks who work there and how hard they work to make it a safe, clean, welcoming place to come too. Security: These men and women are a deterrent to problems. I can park my car and know that there is security in a car driving around, watching. I can walk through the mall and know that I am safe. There is security watching, there are maintenance people keeping an eye out, there is a nice man at information desk that is mindful of everything.

Why would the Anchorage Police Department stick their nose into things and tell the security to be more tactful? Shame on APD; they should get their butts out on the roads and catch a few of these thieves. I have to keep a gun on the nightstand; I had to update the security cameras and put in motion detectors. Leave the Dimond Center alone — at least they are a safe place to go. APD should be visible and a deterrent, like the security at the Dimond Center.
— Lauren Rayfield

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Court: Some sex offenders don't have to register in Alaska - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Sat, 2018-08-11 12:47

Court: Some sex offenders don't have to register in Alaska
Juneau Empire
Alaska, like many states, maintains a registry containing the names and addresses of people convicted of sex crimes or child kidnapping. At the time the Legislature created the registry, it was believed that sex offenders were much more likely to ...

Trump administration is ensnared in another border dispute - this time with Canada

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 11:54

In this Wednesday, July 11, 2018 photo, two children, visiting the Haskell Library with their grandmother from Venezuela, play on the border pillar, as they circle back and forth between the United States and Canada under the watchful eye of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, seated in a vehicle, in Derby Line, Vt. The entrance to the library the family were visiting is in Vermont and while the boundary line with Canada goes right through the center of the building. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (Charles Krupa/)

OTTAWA - Canadians often boast that their 5,525-mile boundary with the United States is the longest undefended border in the world. But tempers have frayed on at least one small stretch.

Machias Seal Island is a 20-acre, treeless island teeming with puffins, razorbills, terns, eiders and other seabirds, making it a mecca for birdwatchers. Both Canada and the United States claim sovereignty over the island, which is about 10 miles off the shore of Maine, and the surrounding 277-square-mile Gray Zone, where fishermen from both countries compete over valuable lobster grounds.

In late June and early July, Canadian fishermen said, U.S. Border Patrol agents in high-speed boats intercepted Canadian lobster boats in the Gray Zone.

"I have no idea where they came from," said Laurence Cook, a lobsterman and representative of the Fishermen's Association from nearby Grand Manan Island. "We've never seen U.S. Border Patrol in the Gray Zone before."

Cook said at least 10 Canadian boats were stopped and interrogated about whether they were carrying drugs and illegal immigrants.

The incident comes at a low point in U.S.-Canada relations. The United States in May slapped tariffs on imports of Canadian steel and aluminum, prompting retaliation from Canada on the same metals and a range of other U.S. exports. President Donald Trump has lashed out at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him "dishonest and weak."

The two countries are also in the midst of tense negotiations over NAFTA, the North American agreement Trump has called "the worst trade deal ever made."

Canada's Foreign Ministry said in a statement it is investigating the incidents that it said "occurred in Canadian waters."

"Canada's sovereignty over Machias Seal Island and the surrounding waters is long-standing and has a strong foundation in international law," the statement said.

U.S. Customs and Border Security said U.S. Border Patrol agents were simply conducting "regular patrol operations" to enforce immigration and other U.S. laws in "the jurisdictional waters of the United States." It said it only boards Canadian vessels with consent.

The State Department maintained in a statement Machias Seal Island belongs to the United States and has since 1783.

[Border arrest data suggests Trump’s push to split migrant families had little deterrent effect]

The dispute dates to the signing of the Treaty of Paris between Great Britain and the newly independent United States. The United States was granted all islands within "20 leagues" of the Maine shore except for the islands that were owned by the British colony of Nova Scotia, which later became part of Canada. The two sides have differed ever since over whether Machias Seal Island was historically part of Nova Scotia.

When Washington and Ottawa went to the World Court to settle the boundary differences over the adjacent fishing grounds of Georges Bank in the 1980s, they deliberately left out Machias Seal Island and the Gray Zone.

The British first erected a lighthouse on the island in 1832, and Canada inherited it when it became a country in 1867. Even though the lighthouse is now automated, Canada employs lighthouse keepers on site to maintain its sovereignty claim.

There are four boundary disputes along the countries' border, but the fight over Machias Seal Island is the "only one that actually involves sovereignty over a piece of territory," said Stephen Kelly, a retired U.S. diplomat and a research scholar on boundary issues at Duke University. The other disputes are squabbles over marine boundaries.

Both countries insist the waters in the Gray Zone are rightfully theirs, so for years there has been an arrangement whereby each country imposes its fishing rules on its own vessels. That means Coast Guard and fisheries vessels from the United States and Canada do not impose their rules on boats from the other country.

Kelly, who has a summer home on the Maine coast, said the recent presence of U.S. Border Patrol in the Gray Zone was unusual.

"I don't know what they were doing out there. It's hardly a well-known smuggling path for illegal aliens," he said.

Kelly said there are occasionally disputes between lobstermen in the zone because there are different rules for the fishing season and the size of lobsters, for example. "The Mainers have to throw back lobsters that are too small or too big," he said. "The Canadians don't have a limit on the big lobsters."

While there are occasional tensions between lobstermen, the two countries have developed cordial relations over the birdwatching trade. There is a division of the business between a U.S. boat that sails out of Cutler, Maine, and a Canadian boat that makes its port on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick.

[Alaska Native corporations are a billion dollars deep in border control contracts]

At the height of the season, which runs from late May to mid-August, each boat takes a maximum of 15 tourists for a daily five-hour trip to the island, which is staffed by the Canadian Wildlife Service and researchers from the University of New Brunswick. Even though the Canadians control the island, they do not ask visitors from the U.S. boat for identification when they disembark.

"We've been colleagues and friends for many years," said Capt. Andrew Patterson, who runs Bold Coast Charters out of Cutler, Me. "I've been doing this for 30 years."

Patterson said he and his Grand Manan rival work cooperatively with Canadian wildlife officials who man the island to protect the seabirds. "It's a U.S. island, but we let Canada use it and pay the bills," he joked.

Patterson noted the latest incident occurred just after the G-7 summit in Quebec where Trump was "kind of rude with the Canadian prime minister." Since that time, there have been no other incidents.

Yet he worries tensions could be raised if there is ever more than lobster and birdwatching at stake. “God forbid if oil or natural gas were ever found here,” he said.

OPINION: Political shifts underscore need for salmon habitat initiative - Dutch Harbor Fisherman

Legislative News - Sat, 2018-08-11 11:53

OPINION: Political shifts underscore need for salmon habitat initiative
Dutch Harbor Fisherman
There is no longer a Coastal Management Program in Alaska. The Legislature repealed it. The Coastal Management Program provided habitat standards, local government participation, public involvement and an interagency process for resolving differences ...

Plane crash survivor reunites with saviors 25 years after ‘miracle’ Bering Sea rescue

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 11:08

Dave Anderson describes being rescued after the plane he was riding on crashed into the Bering Sea 25 years ago.  (Bill Roth / ADN)

Dave Anderson still gets emotional about the day in 1993 the plane carrying his missionary group crashed in the Bering Sea.

The six passengers and pilot were returning from the Russian Far East that August day when their twin-engine Piper Navajo ran out of fuel about 25 miles west of Nome.

What happened became the stuff of news stories and national awards.

The plane crashed, leaving everyone aboard clinging to empty gas cans. A series of extraordinary events led to the arrival of two helicopters that pulled all seven survivors from icy water to safety.

Coverage of the Aug. 13, 1993 Bering Sea rescue was printed in the Aug. 19, 1993 edition of the Nome Nugget. (Courtesy of the Nome Nugget)

[Missionaries plucked from Bering Sea after crash]

Some might credit a rare combination of training, serendipity and skill.

Anderson, who now leads a retreat ministry in Arizona, credits a higher power.

"We believe our lives were in the hands of a personal, merciful, powerful God," he said last week just before he and guitarist Roger Walck performed at Palmer's St. John Lutheran Church. "It's a real blessing to be able to tell the story. We believe in miracles. We believe in rescue."

'Rescue tour'

Anderson this month made his sixth trip to Alaska since the crash. He calls his rescuers every year on the anniversary.

Anderson's wife, Barb, also survived the crash. She has made several trips back to Alaska with him, but Anderson came up solo this time.

Anderson and Walck scheduled concerts and appearances at churches in Anchorage, Eagle River, Homer, Soldotna and Palmer. Anderson addressed air-traffic controllers in Anchorage.

The pair was scheduled to fly to Nome for a dinner Saturday night with rescuers at a Front Street cafe and one more church service Sunday.

They also plan to make a trip to Sledge Island — the steep-sided chunk of rock about 20 miles from Nome that briefly sheltered the group all those years ago.

Among several rescuers they plan to meet with is Eric Penttila, one of the helicopter pilots from Nome.

Penttila is retired now. But he recounts the rescue like it was yesterday.

A west wind was kicking up a 3-foot swell as he lowered the helicopter toward survivors, Penttila said in an interview.

"I had to put the skid in the water but I also had to watch the swells coming at me from the west to make sure they didn't get fouled up in the tail rudder," he said. "That would probably have been a disaster."

'I'm not sure how much fuel we've got left'

It was Friday the 13th that August day when the mission group departed Laverntija, leaving behind food, medicine and Bibles but taking with them scores of empty gas cans. The Navajo stopped in Provideniya in Russia, then landed briefly on St. Lawrence Island.

The flight out of Gambell en route to Nome was so turbulent that Barb Anderson prayed for smoother air.

In a video documenting the event, she described her relief when the plane leveled off above the clouds at 7,000 feet.

But the gas gauges looked "perilously low," she remembered thinking.

Pilot Dave Cochran, also interviewed for the video, said he initially thought he he had more than enough fuel to get to Nome.

Then one engine sputtered and died.

Cochran notified the Federal Aviation Administration's Anchorage air-traffic control center.

"Indicators were apparently off. We've run out of fuel on one tank and we're descending now toward Sledge Island and, uh, I'm not sure how much fuel we've got left in the other," Cochran said in a radio communication.

Controller Chris Brown asked if he was declaring an emergency.

"I believe we are," Cochran replied. "Yes please."


Dave Anderson, who'd been sleeping, woke to the plane's terrible side-to-side motion and the sight of wide-eyed companions.

Cochran said he tried to hold the plane at 130 mph for the best glide speed. The plane dropped several thousand feet in a minute, Anderson remembers.

At that point, the mission group began "an informal prayer meeting," he said.

The air-traffic controllers went over the emergency checklist — number of souls on board, remaining fuel — and waited.

"I felt kind of helpless," Greg Rakowski, the other controller involved in the rescue, said on the video. "It bothered me. I wanted to do more."

The other tank was out, Cochran reported a few minutes later. He scanned the churning waves below for a good spot to put down the plane.

They were a few miles from Sledge Island when the Navajo hit the water at 90 mph.

'A very present help'

The plane skidded and spun around, passenger Brian Brasher remembered on the video.

Brasher, the youngest in the group and sitting up front next to Cochran, told everybody to grab one of the empty gas cans that lined the aisle "and get out on the water."

The plane sank about a minute later, Dave Anderson said.

Dave Anderson tells the story of his dramatic rescue from the Bering Sea in 1993 to a group of air-traffic controllers in Anchorage on Monday. (Anne Raup / ADN)

All seven floated together at first but quickly began separating in the wind and waves, the 36-degree water sapping their strength.

Brasher was yelling Bible verses: "God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble" and "This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

Anderson, separated from his wife by frigid seas and struggling to move his arms, wondered about that particular verse.

"Is that required?" he remembered thinking, he said during an interview last week. "Am I supposed to be glad about this?"


Back at the Anchorage air-traffic center, Brown and Rakowski noticed a radar blip near Nome. An unidentified plane.

They contacted counterparts in Nome. What plane was that? Were they in contact with it?

The Nome controller knew the plane — a Bering Air flight piloted by Terry Day — and radioed the pilot.

Day told controllers he'd seen what he thought was a whale in that area. He turned back to look again. He flew over, flew back and started to circle, not seeing anything.

Then a passenger spotted people splashing in the sea below.

Brown and Rakowski couldn't believe it. Still, Brown said on the video, they didn't expect to hear a survival story given the brief life expectancy in such cold water.

Day, low on fuel, put out an urgent request for another plane to come follow his path so the crash survivors would stay in sight.

Another pilot was just taking off from Nome with 90 minutes of fuel.

Dave Anderson said it was a bizarre sight: As he and the others foundered in the water, two planes chased each other in the sky.

That's when the call went out for helicopters to help with a rescue.

Members of the Nome National Guard, who usually respond to such emergencies, were on the way back from another mission and couldn't assist, authorities said at the time.

Ready for the worst

Penttila, an Evergreen pilot at the time, was just getting ready to go fishing when flight service called. He got ready to fly.

Randy Oles, the "biggest, strongest" firefighter in Nome's volunteer department, came along. They loaded seven body bags into the helicopter.

By the time the helicopter got to the scene, the survivors had scattered across a quarter-mile of ocean, Penttila recalled. He dropped to the waves as Oles climbed down and straddled a skid.

They got to Brasher first, but he waved them to another survivor who was talking about how he'd never see loved ones again.

Coverage of the Aug. 13, 1993 Bering Sea rescue was printed in the Aug. 19, 1993 edition of the Nome Nugget. (Courtesy of the Nome Nugget)

Dave Anderson figured he'd been in the water for about 40 minutes by then. Anderson couldn't pull himself up, and Oles struggled to haul him in until the helicopter's skid dropped below one of Anderson's legs. He was lifted into the helicopter.

Cochran, dropping below the surface of the water and deathly pale, was next. He was unconscious.

"He was one of the toughest ones," Oles said on the video.

Penttila deposited the three on Sledge Island, then went back for more.

'Dying in the water'

Meanwhile, an Era helicopter with a Canadian geophysical surveyor aboard, rescued Barb Anderson — twice.

Dave Miles, the surveyor, struggled to grab her hand as she bobbed in the waves. Finally, Miles recounted, he basically pinned Anderson's head between his legs. She dangled by her neck as the helicopter headed for the island.

Near the rocky beach, Miles lost his grip on Anderson and told the pilot to lower toward the water. She dropped about 15 feet back into the waves.

Miles got dropped off on the beach and waded up to his neck in water so cold it knocked the wind out of him.

Anderson, as she said on the video, was "dying in the water." She had an out-of-body experience. Then she heard Miles behind her.

"He said you can make it! Come to me. I can't come to you," she recalled. "I have been dying all this time and I could have walked to shore."

A helicopter brought her to the top of the island, where the others waited. Her husband, who thought she was gone, stumbled toward her in joy. By then, the hypothermic survivors were in bad shape. Cochran was slurring his words. Another passenger was throwing up.

Penttila put all seven in his helicopter — some in the cargo area — and brought them from the top of Sledge Island to Nome, where they were treated for hypothermia.

They were all out of the hospital by the next day.

Anderson says he's told the rescue story thousands of times. The only person involved whom he hasn't met is the Bering Air passenger who first spotted people splashing in the water.

Some people call the story of salvation a miraculous set of coincidences, Anderson said.

"But to me, it was a divine appointment," he said.

Dave Anderson describes being rescued after the plane he was riding on crashed into the Bering Sea 25 years ago. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Authorities probe how airline employee could steal plane

Alaska News - Sat, 2018-08-11 11:05

Alaska Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at Sea-Tac International Airport Friday evening, Aug. 10, 2018, in SeaTac, Wash. An airline mechanic stole an Alaska Airlines plane without any passengers and took off from Sea-Tac International Airport in Washington state on Friday night before crashing near Ketron Island, officials said. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) (Elaine Thompson/)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Investigators worked to find out how an airline employee stole an empty Horizon Air turboprop plane, took off from Sea-Tac International Airport and crashed into a small island in the Puget Sound after being chased by military jets that were quickly scrambled to intercept the aircraft.

The bizarre incident involving a worker authorities said was suicidal points to one of the biggest potential perils for commercial air travel — airline or airport employees causing mayhem.

"The greatest threat we have to aviation is the insider threat," Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent and transportation security expert, told The Associated Press. "Here we have an employee who was vetted to the level to have access to the aircraft and had a skill set proficient enough to take off with that plane."

[Horizon Air worker steals plane from Sea-Tac Airport, crashes on island in south Puget Sound]

The Friday night crash happened because the 29-year-old man was “doing stunts in air or lack of flying skills,” the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said. The man, who was believed killed, wasn’t immediately identified.

The Horizon Air employee who took a plane from Sea-Tac Airport last night and crashed it on Ketron Island has been identified as 29-year-old Richard Russell, according to multiple sources, including one in law enforcement. https://t.co/185IAoLk4i

— The Seattle Times (@seattletimes) August 11, 2018

Authorities on Saturday also say the man used a machine called a pushback tractor to first maneuver the aircraft so he could board and then take off Friday evening. He was a 3.5-year Horizon employee and had clearance to be among aircraft, but didn’t have a pilot’s license, authorities said.

Authorities say it’s unclear how he attained the skills to do loops in the aircraft before crashing about an hour after taking off into a small island in the Puget Sound.

Authorities say the man went through various background checks to get clearance to be in the secured area.

There was no connection to terrorism, Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff's department, said.

Video showed the Horizon Air Q400 doing large loops and other dangerous maneuvers as the sun set on Puget Sound. There were no passengers aboard.

Authorities initially said the man was a mechanic, but Alaska Airlines later said he was believed to be a ground service agent employed by Horizon. Those employees direct aircraft for takeoff and gate approach and de-ice planes.

Southers, the aviation security expert, said the man could have caused mass destruction. "If he had the skill set to do loops with a plane like this, he certainly had the capacity to fly it into a building and kill people on the ground.," he said.

The plane was pursued by military aircraft before it crashed on tiny Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, Washington. Video showed fiery flames amid trees on the island, which is sparsely populated and only accessible by ferry. No structures on the ground were damaged, Alaska Airlines said.

Troyer said F-15 aircraft took off out of Portland, Oregon, were in the air "within a few minutes," and the pilots kept "people on the ground safe."

Sheriff's department officials said they were working to conduct a background investigation on the Pierce County resident.

The aircraft was stolen about 8 p.m. Alaska Airlines said it was in a "maintenance position" and not scheduled for a passenger flight. Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the U.S. West. The Q400 is a turboprop aircraft with 76 seats.

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said the man "did something foolish and may well have paid with his life."

The man could be heard on audio recordings telling air traffic controllers that he is "just a broken guy." An air traffic controller called the man "Rich," and tried to convince the man to land the airplane.

"There is a runway just off to your right side in about a mile," the controller says, referring to an airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"Oh man. Those guys will rough me up if I try and land there," the man responded, later adding "This is probably jail time for life, huh?"

Later the man said: "I've got a lot of people that care about me. It's going to disappoint them to hear that I did this ... Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess."

Flights out of Sea-Tac, the largest commercial airport in the Pacific Northwest, were temporarily grounded during the drama.

The plane crashed in a heavily wooded area of thick underbrush on the island, according to Debra Eckrote, the Western Pacific regional chief for the National Transportation Safety Board. The crash sparked a 2-acre wilfire.

"It is highly fragmented," she said of the plane. "The wings are off, the fuselage is, I think, kind of positioned upside down."

The FBI is looking into the man's background and try to determine his motive, she said. Investigators are trying to find how he got on the plane.

"He's ground support so they have access to aircrafts," she said of the man.

Investigators expect they will be able to recover both the cockpit voice recorder and the event data recorder from the plane.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Saturday morning that President Donald Trump is "monitoring the situation."

Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement early Saturday morning that the airline was "working to find out everything we possibly can about what happened."

The airline was coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board, he said.

Royal King told The Seattle Times he was photographing a wedding when he saw the low-flying turboprop being chased by two F-15s. He said he didn't see the crash but saw smoke.

"It was unfathomable, it was something out of a movie," he told the newspaper.

Gov. Jay Inslee thanked the Air National Guard from Washington and Oregon for scrambling jets and said in a statement "there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding tonight's tragic incident.""

“The responding fighter pilots flew alongside the aircraft and were ready to do whatever was needed to protect us, but in the end the man flying the stolen plane crashed,” Inslee said.