SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Neither here nor there



July 28, 2016
Thursday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
If you put two Alaskans in a room together, it is only a matter of seconds before they start playing "can you top this" with travel horror stories. Unlike our "Outside" cousins, we collect plane and boat trip horror stories pretty much from birth. And they are always good ones.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

Oh, sure, there are those occasional driving horror stories that popup.

For example, that time when traffic in Our Fair Salmon City was so awful that it once took me SIX WHOLE MINUTES to drive from Downtown to the West End.

And there was that day I was 10 minutes late to an appointment because some idiot actually drove down Tongass at 12.5 miles per hour.

Or that afternoon when I had to cool my heels for a minute or two because some absolute moron was blocking traffic trying to make a left turn across Tongass and no one in the other lane would stop to let him through. Quel horreur!

But I digress.

We save our tallest story telling efforts trying to describe the number of times we thought we were going to die on a plane flight, or that we thought we were going to regurgitate our lunches crossing Dixon Entrance.

Speaking of regurgance, the newest Independence Day movie should have been called "Regurgance" rather than "Resurgence." Nothing new to see here, citizens.

But I digress, again.

Anyway, while I would love to wade into my lengthy history of water borne travel adventures, there are only so many knots in a fathom, so I will stick to aerial ones. And I have a couple of new ones.

Longtime sufferers of this column have noted that I seem to have adventures whenever I decide to catch a plane out of K-Town.

Some have actually opined that perhaps I am somewhat accursed on that front. Really, Dave, it's just you, they say, our trips are fine!

Others have suggested that I announce in advance the flights I am on so they can make other arrangements.

The last request sort of came from our "local" airline which apparently has found itself too often on the wrong end of my "humorous" jibes and has even gone so far as to suggest I take alternative conveyance if ever possible.

Okay, that's not quite true.

They have never suggested I fly someone else. Not that I could fly someone else most of the year, but that's neither here nor there. I personally would also be “neither here nor there” if I was forced to not fly our local airline.

From Nowhere, it is a long walk to Anywhere.

But what they did do at one point was give me the direct phone line of the company president and suggest that I "call" him before going to print with any new "stories" about flying in (or on) Alaska.

Since that was a couple of airline presidents ago, I feel okay with taking these ones to print without said notification.

A year or so ago, USA Today proclaimed Ketchikan as one of the most dangerous airports in America. We, of course, snorted because despite the Ketchikan airport's proximity to the both mountains and "the ocean," it is not really a dangerous airport.

The only clear and present danger at the Ketchikan airport involves other passengers going into a homicidal rage over (a) lack of wifi or (b) the horrible doom and gloom news channel that is on the big screen 24/7.

And, of course, the biggest "danger" at KET is having to take a ferry across the vast expanse of Tongass Narrows to reach the airport. There have been more than a few near-fatal tizzy's caused by the missing of said ferry and the half an hour wait for the next one.

Now recently, I have had a spell where nothing much has happened on my flights in and around the Great State of Alaska and elsewhere. I have actually been a little bored with how routine and prompt my trips have been.

Fortunately those doldrums have come to an end!

Recently, I left KTN for a flight north. It's the middle of summer. The weather everywhere was sunny and warm. No wind. No clouds. Visibility somewhere around ten zillion miles. Naturally, a recipe for near-disaster because those conditions are unheard to pilots in Alaska.

First, a disclaimer. Pilots in Alaska are the best pilots in the world. I actually believe this. They have to be, in order to fly here. The weather forecast always calls for 80 percent "dicey."

If anything, there is occasionally the fault of hubris. The rare mistakes that happen aeronautically in these here parts generally include efforts to continue on when a hasty retreat would be a better option. We've all been on a flight that tries several times to get into a socked in airport. And we have all been happy when the pilot finally gives up and overheads.

Anyway, sometimes bad things happen to good pilots. I get that.

But why something should happen on a day when the weather is A-1000 percent perfect? Well, that would be just my luck.

Heading north, the flight to Sitka had nary, nary, nary a bump or burp. You would have thought we were in a video simulator or maybe watching someone else's travel video from the comfort of our IPhonys.

Now, everyone knows that in Southeast Sitka's airport has the worst reputation. We've all had some (or most) of our interesting landings there.

Personally, I've busted wheels, had a wing tip touch down, hit birds and been smacked by lightning coming and going from Sitka.

And I have had several landings there in which I thought the plane had suddenly morphed into a mechanical bull.

Final approach takes on a whole new meaning when you are arriving at Sitka in a storm.

Mostly because the runway begins and ends in the ocean. You get lower and lower and lower and the water gets closer and closer and closer and then the runway is under you and then you slap down on it.

Which then is followed by full reverse thrust, 1000 percent brakes and - you hope - the tail hook from an aircraft carrier.

Every landing in Sitka is a "hard" landing.

But none have been as hard as my most recent one.

We came peacefully floating out the blue and then smacked the runway so hard that (a) I bit my tongue and (b) the plane bounced back up into for a bit which caused even more seriously than normal braking to the end of the roll out. And I'm pretty sure that no one, even the cabin crew, breathed during that roll out.

A few years ago, they extended the runway a bit farther into the ocean. Good thing. We used every pebble of it.

Like I said, every landing in Sitka is a "hard" landing, but that is the first time that a runway actually jumped up into the air and smacked the plane out of the sky like it was some irritating turbo-fan powered gnat buzzing about.

I, of course, was just turning to a seat mate to remark on it being the smoothest flight ever when the controlled collision with the runway, caused me to bite my tongue.

(Right now, some at AK is thinking "that @#*@&*(!@* never bites his tongue!")

Once again, I must remind you that we love our jet pilots up here because they are so good. Yet, when it was announced a couple of minutes later that we were changing crews in Sitka, there was scattered applause.

Fortunately, the flight to Juneau went off well and the landing was very smooth. And even the long flight to Anchorage over the mountains was surprisingly turbulence free.

But - natch - there was one last little snafu on the landing in Anchorage.

After a smooth and calm descent, the runway appeared only inches beneath us. Almost immediately, the engines roared back up and the nose jerked skyward and we had one of the rapid, gut wrenching climbs that makes you hold your breath wondering just what they are trying to avoid.

All I could think of was power up, nose up, gear up, flaps up, try not to throw up.

What was the problem?

A moose on the runway, some idiot with a drone, an incoming ICBM?

Must have been nothing because we circled around and smoothly landed.

On deplaning I passed the cockpit and couldn't resist saying " nice go around."

"What go around?" the co-pilot replied.

Yeah, it's just me.



On the Web:

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 ©2016

jpg Click here to post comments, opinions, responses...
jpg new

To comment, Readers now have the option to provide Comments, Opinions, & Responses on the new easy to use SitNews' auto-post webpage or... Readers may continue to use the FaceBook response section provided below.

Representations of fact and opinions in comments posted are solely those of the individual posters and
do not represent the opinions of Sitnews.


Publish A Letter

Letter to the Editor

SitNews ©2016
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska


SitNews ©2014
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

Contact the Editor