SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Weekend Medevac in King Cove Highlights Critical Need for Road to Cold Bay Airport


February 18, 2014
Tuesday PM

(SitNews) King Cove, Alaska - A 63 year-old King Cove woman remains in critical condition in an Anchorage hospital following a dangerous Coast Guard medevac over the weekend during gale-force winds and blizzard conditions. King Cove Mayor Henry Mack says the patient, who is his sister-in-law, is being treated for a heart virus, pneumonia and the flu.

“Not only was my sister-in-law’s life in danger, but so were the four lives of the Coast Guard personnel who landed in King Cove Friday night (Feb. 14, 2014) to medevac her out to Cold Bay,” said Mayor Mack. “My wife and I are close to my sister-in-law. For family members and EMS personnel, it’s stressful wondering if the Coast Guard is even going to be able to make it in.”

After an assessment and discussing the situation with an emergency room doctor in Anchorage, health care workers at the King Cove clinic determined the patient was in heart failure and needed to be treated at an Anchorage hospital as soon as possible.

“I didn’t think there was any way that the patient could be safely medevaced out, given the weather conditions,” said clinic physician’s assistant Katie Eby.

The Coast Guard decided to launch one of its MH60 Jayhawk helicopter from Cold Bay at about 5:15 p.m.

King Cove Fire Chief Chris Babcock said at the time, winds were gusting to about 70 miles per hour with whiteout conditions at the airstrip.

“I’ve done so many dog-gone medevacs, I can’t even count them all. But this was probably one of the worst ones I’ve seen as far as the weather was concerned,” Babcock said. “When the helicopter made it in, we didn’t even know it was there until we heard the props and suddenly it was alongside of us. As we were sitting next to the helicopter in the ambulance, the winds were making it bounce on the ground.”

The patient was quickly transferred to the helicopter. The Coast Guard returned to the Cold Bay Airport at 7:22 p.m. Guardian Flight then transported the patient to an Anchorage Hospital.

“If we had a road, the clinic health providers could have immediately loaded my sister-in-law into an ambulance and headed to Cold Bay instead of agonizing over whether the Coast Guard was going to be able to make it in,” said Mayor Mack.

Just two months ago, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a massive land swap (56,000 acres from the State and the King Cove Corporation) in exchange for access to a small single-lane gravel road corridor (206 acres). That road corridor would have connected the remote community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport for emergency medical issues and quality of life reasons. The fishing community is accessible only by small plane or boat, weather-permitting.

“Every day that I go to work, I think to myself, is this the day that we’re going to lose one of our community members?” Eby said. “We were so lucky that the Coast Guard was able to get in and transport this patient.”

“I couldn’t help thinking about the insensitive decision Secretary Jewell made,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. She [Secretary Jewell] doesn’t realize how many lives are affected by just one medevac and the danger that places them in. It puts so much stress on our entire community, the Coast Guard and the health providers in King Cove who are struggling to save lives.”

Today, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) once again called on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to address the life-threatening situation in King Cove, Alaska created by Jewell’s refusal to allow a few miles of road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to link the isolated community with the state’s second-longest runway.

Murkowski said, “The Interior Secretary rejected the road proposal two days before Christmas Eve, and since then I have been told to get over it and move on. But I am not going to get over it nor move on. The ability of the people of King Cove to cross the refuge to reach emergency medical treatment is an issue of environmental and social justice,” Murkowski said. “When Secretary Jewell rejected the road, she promised to find a viable alternative – so far she’s done nothing. Meanwhile the people of King Cove live in fear that they will be trapped by the weather during a medical emergency. I will not sit idly by while the lives of Alaskans are unnecessarily put at risk.”

Murkowski sent Secretary Jewell a letter today after a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter had to be called on Friday to get a 63-year-old woman suffering from heart failure to a hospital. Weather conditions in King Cove at the time were such – 70-mile-an-hour wind gusts and near zero visibility – that commercial planes couldn’t fly. The patient remains in critical condition in an Anchorage hospital.

In the letter, Murkowski said the incident underscores questions of why Secretary Jewell is willing to place a higher priority on preventing even a marginal intrusion on the peace and comfort of birds above the safety and well-being of not only the residents of King Cove, but also the members of the Coast Guard who must risk their lives to save them.

“Friday was just the latest example of the unnecessary risk the Interior Department is willing to submit Alaskans to in the name of protecting bird habitat,” Murkowski said. “The stress felt by the residents of King Cove, for the safety of their families, is unforgiveable. While plenty of our smallest communities face transportation challenges, none are as close to an all-weather runway and safe access to hospital care as King Cove. To be left in harms way, not because of geography, but because of the callous decisions of Washington bureaucrats is unacceptable.”

Murkowski commended the bravery and selfless dedication of the Coast Guard officers, who put their own lives in danger to protect Alaskans every day, but she is angered that they are also asked to face unnecessary risk because of Interior’s rejection of the road.

“It was lucky that the Coast Guard were nearby and able to help. If they had been in Kodiak, the outcome may have been far worse,” Murkowski said. “We should not be forced to rely on the Coast Guard, brave though they are, to risk flying in conditions when no one else can. They would not have to do so if there was a road.”

The residents of King Cove have been fighting for decades for road access to neighboring Cold Bay, where flights to life-saving medical care aren’t stopped by the region’s notorious weather.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

“Anyway you define it, the people of King Cove, most of whom are Alaska Natives, are not being treated fairly by their government,” Murkowski said. “It’s ridiculous that Secretary Jewell and her Interior Department continue to believe that their fellow Americans do not deserve the same access to emergency medical care that they take for granted for their own families in the Lower 48.”

Dan Sullivan, candidate for U.S. Senate, said in a prepared statement today, “This latest emergency medevac incident on Friday in King Cove continues to illustrate how out of touch the Obama administration and Secretary of Interior Jewell are with reality. To continue to hold waterfowl habitat over human life is outrageous, especially when the Administration continually preaches about the importance of having access to affordable, reliable healthcare."

“How many residents of King Cove must see their lives hang in the balance over weather conditions? When will this rural Alaskan community be taken seriously by the Obama Administration? And when will Senator Begich join the rest of the delegation in standing up to this Administration and their heartless decision?" asked Sullivan. 

Sullivan said, “Senator Begich will soon have an opportunity to stand with the people of King Cove and stand up to the Obama administration and oppose the nomination of Rhea Suh to be assistant Interior secretary with jurisdiction managing fish and wildlife, refuges, and national parks. I urge him to do so. Given his blind support for President Obama’s earlier Interior Department nominees, and his record of voting with the President 97 percent of the time, I won’t hold my breath. 

“I commend the bravery of the Coast Guard crew who was able to successfully medevac this resident, but these servicemen shouldn’t have to risk their lives in these types of missions, which could be avoided if not for an Administration that has demonstrated its devotion to environmental special interest groups," said Sullivan who currently serves as a Lt. Colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Sullivan recently served as Alaska’s Commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources and was Alaska’s Attorney General prior to that.  He is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State.

Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews

Source of News: 

Gary Hennigh, King Cove City Administrator

Laura Tanis, Communications Mgr, Aleutians East Borough

Office of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Dan Sullivan, candidate for U.S. Senate


E-mail your news & photos to

Publish A Letter in SitNews

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2014
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews may be protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper sources.