Helicopter reaches Kaktovik with power plant technicians

In the news

Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2005

ANCHORAGE — An Alaska National Guard helicopter reached Kaktovik on Tuesday with technicians who hoped to repair the village's damaged power system.

Kaktovik, an Arctic village of about 300, lost power Sunday when a blizzard packing near hurricane-force winds drove temperatures to 20 degrees below zero. With wind chill, the temperature was about 60 below.

Some homes have been without power since Friday.

Kaktovik's power plant quit Sunday evening. Many residents sought shelter at the village school until it lost power on Sunday, too, said Jim Butchart of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Eight or nine families from the school were moved to the village's heavy equipment maintenance building because it still had power. Alaska National Guard spokesperson Kalei Brooks said a Pave Hawk helicopter and an HC130 cargo airplane reached the village Tuesday afternoon. Snow drifts on the runway kept the airplane from landing, but the helicopter touched down in the village itself 2 to 3 miles away.

The time on the ground was brief — just five to 10 minutes, Brooks said.

''It was on the ground long enough to offload the technicians they need to restore the power,'' she said, plus about 600 pounds of portable generating equipment.

Both aircraft immediately headed back to Anchorage more than 630 miles away.

A second C130 cargo plane on Tuesday headed north to Barrow. From there, it was to pick up about 4,000 pounds of generators, oil and other equipment.

If unable to land, Brooks said, the plane would head for Deadhorse in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and the equipment would be loaded onto SnoCats for a 100-mile overland trip to the stricken village, estimated to take 24 to 36 hours.

Generators that continued to work in the village had an estimated two days of fuel remaining, Brooks said.

''If we can't land that plane, we need to get that convoy out as soon as possible,'' she said.

Conditions remained much the same Tuesday with temperatures at minus 25 degrees and winds gusting up to 65 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Two earlier attempts to reach the village failed.

One crew using night vision goggles got as far as Arctic Village, about 150 miles south of Kaktovik before turning back, said Mike Haller, a spokesperson for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

''They got as far as Arctic Village and ran into a complete, total whiteout and couldn't proceed any further,'' he said.

The first mission failed Monday when a C-130 plane reached Barrow about 325 miles west of Kaktovik but stayed put because of strong winds.

The power failure has led to a freeze-up of all heavy equipment, making it impossible to keep roads passable. Snow drifts now are higher than the school, said Noe Texeira, a spokesperson in the North Slope Borough mayor's office.

People who couldn't leave their homes are using propane stoves, kerosene heaters and wood stoves to try to stay warm, or bundling up in arctic gear. No injuries have been reported, said Dennis O. Packer, also in the mayor's office.

Kaktovik is on the north shore of Barter Island between the Okpilak and Jago rivers on the Beaufort Sea coast. It's the only village in the 19.6-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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