SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Just Another Routine Fright North


February 04, 2012
Saturday AM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- Mea culpa. Mea Maxima Culpa. I have offended the Gods of Travel (Hermes), Weather (Zeus) and Flight (Boeing). My sin was hubris. Hubris in saying “sure, I’ll fly to a meeting in Anchorage in late January.”
jpg Dave Kiffer

As a result – as I feverishly type this – I am condemned with 80 other lost souls to circle endlessly in the dark, storm tossed, clouds above Juneau. Occasionally, we lower speed and flaps and descend into the snow flurries to get tantalizingly close to Juneau – even seeing the shimmering lights of the town through the overcast. Close to the runway, enough to see some of the navigation lights blinking red and blue in the darkness. Then the engines roar back to life and the jet soars back into the clouds.

Every so often, the Captain comes on the speaker and reminds us of the possibility of a “return” to Purgatory, AKA Sitka.

By now, Sitka is probably packed in again and even a successful landing would be more jarring than the Disneyland Matterhorn ride and slightly less heart stopping than Space Mountain. Or we would just fly back to Juneau again and begin our circle–descend- climb-circle-rinse-repeat dance again. Fortunately we have plenty of Picnic Pacs.

(several days later)

Yes, I do exaggerate – just a bit. That particular flight is over, although I still feel like my soul remains lost circling Juneau.

It’s always a bad start to a trip when you have to wait 90 minutes past takeoff ETA on the ground in Ketchikan because of “weather issues” in Sitka.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Sitka a lot. Probably the prettiest city in Alaska (so sorry Bethel!!). But even in perfectly calm, clear, cool and connected weather, finding that little, tiny, water-covered runway in that great big ocean is a stretch.

We used to joke that Amelia Earhart got lost trying to land in Sitka. As I get older, it’s not a joke.

I fly through Sitka several times a year. I can’t remember the last time it wasn’t a “bumpy night.”

Probably in the previous millenium.

We’ve landed in thunderstorms, we’ve landed in near hurricanes. I swear that we got caught up in a tornado vortex one of those times. Your results may vary. I’m sure it’s just “lucky flight” me.

Naturally, after the long delay in KTN. SIT did not disappoint.

Yes, we landed.

No, I am not sure why.

It was not unlike one of the old E ticket rides at Disneyland. Only, in Disneyland, you know from the outset you will arrive safely (if you don’t try to crawl out of your seat mid ride).

Once again flying in to Sitka, the outcome was in doubt as we bumped, pitched and yawed on down to impact, uh, landing. As we thumped through the darkened storm, my exit row mate kept glancing at the instructions for the emergency door.  I didn’t bother. If we came to grief in that weather, the exit door would be superfluous.

But - shock and awe - we didn’t come to grief.

We did hit the runway with the obligatory Big Bang (physicists take note).

Natch we arrived just in time for raging blizzard. Which kept us on the ground there for another couple of hours.

You know the wind is a little “brisk” when the parked jet bounces around like a mechanical bull.

Finally, that storm cleared and we took off for Juneau. By now, were so far behind schedule that we should have been bringing the seatbacks and tray tables into their locked and upright positions for landing at Ted Steven Inter-X in Lost Anch.

I was starting to get worried that we’d either run out of fuel  or crew time and have to stay in Juneau.

To alleviate my concerns about getting stuck in J-town, the jet then went into a holding pattern over Gastineau Channel. It lasted about 75 minutes.

A couple of times, we dropped gingerly down through the clouds to test the runway. We stuck our “toe” tentatively out and them immediately roared back up into the sky. It seemed like the only the question was when we’d head back to Sitka and whether or not it was still landable.

Naturally, I sat there wishing they would just pull the plug and head to Anchorage. No dice.

Then the unthinkable happened. We actually touched down in Juneau. The captain hadn’t even mentioned another landing attempt and our ears didn’t pop. I guess the snow had piled up so high on the runway that the jet was landing at 10,000 feet.

And it was only in a mild blizzard state. We would probably be able to continue on with our 'fright' to Anchorage.

When we started loading the Juneau to Anchorage passengers, I realized why they had pushed to land. It seemed like half the Legislature and many state official muckymucks were getting on board to head back to Skankchorage for the weekend. I can imagine the fuss that would have reached the airline’s complaint line if these very important personages had been kept from their weekend cocktail fundraising parties by something as silly as a little “bad” weather.

The rest of us, well, we could suffer a few travel pangs so as not to inconvenience those that really matter.

Once again, I exaggerate a bit. And even digress.

We did make it into ANC, uneventfully, just a little before 2 am.

The great rule of Alaskan winter travel remains never be on a tight schedule. You will get there when you get there.

Even if you end up leaving your immortal soul circling over Juneau on the way.

On the Web:

More Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2011

Publish A Letter in SitNews         Read Letters/Opinions

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2012
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska