Monday, May 31, 2010

Flying to Ekuk, Alaska

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett
Pastor Holy Rosary Mission

Friday, May 28, 2010, I decided to fly over to Ekuk, Alaska after landing at Clarks Point. Ekuk (airport code KKU) is located about a mile down the coast from Clarks Point. It is 13 miles Southeast of Dillingham across the mouth of the Nushagak River.

It was a beautiful day and one lone fishing processor sat in the bay awaiting some action from Ekuk and Clarks Point.

There is a rather dangerous ridge that separates the Clarks Point runway and the Ekuk Runway. While taking off runway 18 at Clarks Point one has to climb over a 100 foot ridge that blocks the view of the Ekuk Runway. If a plane is taking of runway 01 at Ekuk, at the same time a plane is taking off runway 18 at Clarks Point, they could collide as they clear the ridge. There have been several near misses reported by a few of my pilot friends.

The runway at Ekuk (runway 01 and 19) is very narrow and soft in places (1200 foot long and 40 feet wide). It looks narrower from the air. Using caution after departing runway 18 from Clarks Point I gained as much altitude as possible to see over the ridge to Ekuk. Before I cranked the engine I did not hear any airplanes in the area nor did I hear any chatter on the radio while I taxied out, so felt safe flying over the ridge.

Final Approach to Runway 19, Ekuk, Alaska.

Visible looking Northwest is the Ekuk runway 01/19 and the village of Ekuk (middle of the picture). The next point up is Clarks Point. Not visible, just over the ridge is the Clarks Point runway 36/18.

Here is a picture of the 40 foot wide runway looking Southeast.

The small fishing village is closed during the winter. Fisherman from all around Bristol Bay set up fish camp near the end of May. Several Parishioners from Holy Rosary Parish in Dillingham are already making plans for their two month excursion to Ekuk. Around the middle of June the small village "comes alive."

Ekuk, Alaska is shown here flying in from the West. I was just over Clarks Point when I took the shot.

There is also an old cannery at Ekuk that is still being used when the fish run begins. The cannery is just to the West of the runway.

On the Ekuk runway there is not a lot of room to turn around. I consulted John Bouker, Jerry Ball, Mat Vandeventer, and several other seasoned bush pilots about the runway before actually landing there. There seems to be a certain place to touchdown and a certain place to turn around. Even so, the first time I landed there I got stuck in soft sand. The tires on my Cherokee Warrior II are standard size and do not do well on soft runways.

Here is a picture of the wider North end of the runway where a small plane can turn around without having to get out and tow the plane.

If one does get stuck, it is always nice to have a ground crew available to help push you out. Below is a picture I took last year after getting stuck in the soft sand. Shown are a few Summertime Ekuk teenagers who helped push my Cherokee Warrior II back 25 yards or so towards the beginning of the runway so I could take off on the short and soft runway 19.

I will be checking back with Ekuk in a couple of weeks to offer Mass and maybe bless a few fishing camps.

Safe flying out there!

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