Saturday, February 26, 2011

ASOS: Aborted Landing in Koliganek, Feb 11, 2011

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett
Pastor Holy Rosary Mission, Alaska

While flying to Koliganek, Alaska on February 11, 2011 the ASOS reported the wind calm. It was far from calm. I ended up aborting the landing.

Below is a picture of Koliganek, Alaska approaching runway 27, taken in December of 2010.

Weather reporting equipment failures are but one factor Alaskan Bush Pilots must deal with. Many of the remote runways in the Bristol Bay area have Surface Weather Observation Stations (ASOS, AWOS). These stations are also referred to as Automatic Terminal Information Services (ATIS).

These automated reporting stations report the current weather conditions at a particular airport. AWOS is a God send to bush pilots flying around Alaska because they have their own radio frequencies and they can be monitored by the Flight Service Station (FSS) in Dillingham or all airports with Flight Service Stations or Towers.

Before flying to a village to offer Mass I normally go to the FSS in Dillingham to pick up the current weather for the airport I am flying to. Once airborne and within 20 miles of the airport I punch in the ASOS frequency and listen to the weather recording once more to make sure there are no surprises/changes, i.e. wind direction, wind intensity, fog, ceiling level.

Unfortunately the ASOS can (1) become inoperative and (2) report erroneous weather. When flying to Koliganek February 11, 2011 the ASOS reported calm winds, when in fact the wind was blowing at least 30 knots with unknown gusts of greater severity.

As I approached Koliganek runway expecting a nice leisurely GPS approach into runway 9, I started to realize things were not quite right.


For more information on the runway at Koliganek, CLICK HERE.

After aborting the landing I flew South to Clarks Point and landed on an snowy and icy runway 36. The wind was not nearly as bad. For weather updates when landing Clarks Point I use the Dillingham ATIS because Clarks Point is only 12 miles to the Southeast.


The Federal Aviation Administration always asks for pilot reports. The reason why pilot reports are so crucial in the Alaskan Bush is because some of the weather reporting equipment may not be reporting accurately. Another flying lesson learned.

Fly safe out there.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Turbulent Week in Bristol Bay

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett
Pastor of Holy Rosary Mission

Moderate turbulence below 6000 feet, low level wind shear, sustained surface wind greater than 30 knots, and severe turbulence within 2000 feet AGL (above ground level) are just some of the reports I heard this last week flying around Dillingham, Alaska. An aborted landing in Dillingham and a rough windy flight to Twin Hills, Alaska were just two of my challenges.

Saturday, January 29th, 2011, was one of those unforgettable days. It was the first time in six years of flying that we had to abort our approach into Dillingham, Alaska airport.

I did not get a video of the aborted landing into Dillingham because I was transfixed, a bit shaky, and did not think of a camera. But here I am talking about the incident as I fly in more turbulent weather to Twin Hills, Alaska a couple days later.

Also, for the VIDEO CLICK HERE.

I left Dillingham at 9:30 AM on a Penair Caravan to King Salmon to offer Mass. I did not fly myself because the wind was gusting over my personal flying limit of 30 MPH.

I tried, and I do mean tried, to return to Dillingham that afternoon at 4:00 PM in a Penair single engine Saratoga (a small bit larger than our Cherokee Warrior II). I followed Jason, the pilot, into the Saratoga copilot’s seat. Dillingham was reporting a direct crosswind at 23 knots. We had a tremendous tailwind and our ground speed was around 190 knots (a Saratoga cruises at about 130 knots).

By the time we arrived in Dillingham, 22 minutes and 64 miles later (the fastest time I have ever made the trip), the wind was gusting to 40 knots. The cross wind was so brutal that on the approach to runway 01, I was seeing the runway threshold out of the pilot's window from my co-pilot's seat. Jason tried to straighten the aircraft out so we could touch down but it was impossible.

After aborting the approach into Dillingham, Jason headed back to King Salmon. Our return trip was not quite as fast. In fact I started to feel nauseous as the bumps jarred us around and the ground speed indicated a messily 65 knots.

That was the incident I had fresh in my mind when I blasted off for Twin Hills in our Cherokee Warrior II. When I started off, the wind was gusting to about 20 knots. As I started flying through the mountain pass at 700 feet, things picked up considerably. I could barely stay in the middle of the pass due to turbulence. I was kicked one way and jolted another.

This is the video I took at about 700 feet as the turbulence was knocking me around.


Here are a few pictures I took on the way to Twin Hills, Alaska. This first one shows the bay, mountains, orange clouds, and blue ski.

Near mountains like these is where the turbulence was horrendous. The wind was the strongest in confluences, where several mountain valleys come together.

Here is a picture taken about 15 miles East of Twin Hills, Alaska. I was at about 1000 feet.

I finally made it to twin hills and flew overhead and did a touch and go on the snowy and icy runway.


Here is a picture of what it looked like when I was a few miles out. The two hills are the “Twin Hills” the village is named after.

On the way back I decided to climb to 6000 feet to see if things would smooth out for me. No such luck. I was continually fighting the little 160 horsepower Warrior II as I would be sucked into down drafts and shot skyward in the updrafts. I had to go from full power to half power and back. I was continually fighting the controls to stay at 6000 feet and it just was not happening.

No one said flying in Bristol Bay would be easy. It is weeks like this that drive that conclusion home. Fly safe out there.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hand Feeding Red Fox In Dillingham, Alaska

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett
Pastor, Holy Rosary Mission

I have been out here in Dillingham for nearly six years. Never before have I been this close to a Red Fox. They are normally very skittish. Several things went through my mind as the Red Fox approached me. Was there something wrong with it? Was it hungry? Has it finally realized I am not a threat? Does it have rabies? Why is it so friendly?


As the Red Fox got within two feet of me I whistled and it stopped. I calmly walked into the house and grabbed my camera and some lunch meet. I came back out and the Fox was gone. I whistled again and it came bounding out of the snow and trees.

It ate some meat while I took a fairly long video. The video is too long to load out here in the middle of the Alaskan Bush. We do not have the latest technology in internet cables. Anyway, I tried to hand feed the Fox but it would not get close enough. After the lunch meet was gone I went back into the house and pulled some Swiss cheese out of the fridge.

Here is what transpired.

For the Fox Video video

Safe Flying (I mean safe feeding) out there!