Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Flying to Manokotak, Alaska: Dec 2009

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett
Pastor, Holy Rosary Mission

Sometimes when flying to remote Alaskan villages in the winter, or any time for that matter, communication gets a bit messed up. That is what happened Monday, December 14, 2009. There was a breakdown in communication.

On my way to Clarks Point to give the Sacrament of the Eucharist to the elder of the village, Louise Gardiner, we basically crossed paths in the air. Louise was coming northwest to Dillingham on VanAir (locally owned air carrier) for a check-up at the Kanakanak hospital. At about the same time, I was flying southeast going to Clarks Point to give her Communion.

Bad weather the previous week (severe wind, mist, and fog) had caused Louise to cancel her original appointment and make it for the day I was suppose to bring her communion. In fact, I had canceled twice going to Clarks Point the previous week. So, one can understand how communication can get a little messed up.

Clarks Point is located 12 miles southeast of Dillingham and has a population of about 50 Yupik Native Alaskans. The Yupik are one of seven Alaskan Native tribes.

There is a large amount of work to get our Cherokee Warrior II in the air in sub-zero weather. Preparation includes pre-heating the engine and cockpit, removing wing covers and horizontal stab covers, shoveling snow, and the usual preflight inspection. Hopefully nothing breaks while brushing off snow and attaching the GPS.

Since I was already airborne, and the weather was, well marginal, which is better than IFR, I decided to "stay airborne" and fly around for an hour or two. I called FAA Flight Service Station in Dillingham on my radio (122.3) and filed another flight plan to Manokotak, a village about 10 miles to the West of Clarks Point.

You can see both Manokotak and Clarks Point on the Map below:

From Dillingham, Manokotak is located about 14 miles to the southwest. The population of the village, mostly Yupik Native Alaskans, is about 400. Learn more about the village by using the following website:,_Alaska.

Manokotak recently built a new airport. It is located northeast of the village about five miles. It is basically out in the middle of the tundra, making it easier to find in bad weather, much safer, and more accessible. The old runway was nestled at the base of some very large mountains.

To me, a pilot with only 500 hours finds small snowy gravel runways, hidden between huge mountains, with low visibility, strong winds, mist, and 500 foot ceilings, well, too challenging. So, the new runway makes my decision to fly to Manokotak, when I need to, much easier.

Here are some pictures of the new runway. I took the pictures while landing on runway three so these pictures are looking north and northwest.

New Manokotak airport looking down runway 030:

Runway 030 Looking toward the north:

New Manokotak airport looking toward the southwest:

Here is a picture of the old Manokotak runway looking toward the southwest. It was close to the village of Manokotak, but a little tricky to find in bad weather.

Have a wonderful Advent and Christmas and fly safe out there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What was the. Charge for you to fly there to give her communIon?