The Runway Lights Failed, So Villagers Used Their Headlights to Aid an Airlift

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Late Friday night a child in Igiugig needed to be medevaced to Anchorage. 

The small, remote Southwest Alaska village is right at the mouth of the Kvichak River on the south end of Iliamna Lake. LifeMed sent a King Air flight over from Kodiak. That usually takes about 30 minutes. 

But this year, the village’s state-owned airport has had some problems with the runway lights. And when residents went to turn them on to guide the flight in, nothing happened.

Normally, this would stop a plane from landing.

Ida Nelson had just climbed out of a steam bath and was getting dressed when she heard the LifeMed plane fly over her village. 

“When they first flew over, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that sounds like a weird vehicle. I’ve never heard that truck before,’” she said. “And it wasn’t a truck, it was an airplane.”

It was after 11 p.m., Nelson said. She knew something was wrong. 

“Normally if you push the button like 10 or 15 times the lights will just light up,” she said. “But they didn’t and so the medevac plane flew over the village.”

“She started calling other people and waking them up. Like, ‘Get up, get out of bed, come line up the runway,’” she said. 

Nelson said her neighbor made 32 calls for help. 

“That’s pretty much almost every household in this village. Pretty much every cell phone here,” she said. 

A local pilot got contacted the LifeMed pilot. Meanwhile, villagers drove their cars, trucks and four-wheelers toward the runway. 

They staggered vehicles, facing east and running the whole length of the runway — lighting the pilot’s way. 

“So he could be able to see end-to-end of the runway,” she said. 

Then, they waited. 

“I was anxious and nervous and I was like, ‘So what if that was my baby (waiting for that) plane,’” Nelson said.

As the pilot got ready to land, an on-call health aid told everyone to stay put when the plane touched down. 

“And so, once she was able to get the patient on the plane, everybody still stayed in their positions and he was able to taxi out, taxi down the runway and take off,” Nelson said. US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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