At Sea-Tac, operations gradually getting back to normal

Posted: Friday, March 02, 2001

SEATTLE (AP) -- Flights to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were at 75 percent of normal on Friday, two days after the region was jolted by a 6.8-magnitude earthquake.

''For all intents and purposes, we're fully operational,'' said airport spokeswoman Terri-Ann Mohon.

Not bad considering the last line of air traffic control -- the controllers in the tower who work with binoculars and direct air traffic at and near the field -- have been operating out of a ground-level trailer since the Wednesday morning quake broke most of the glass in their elevated perch.

''Part of the reason they're doing better is that they're getting used to where they are,'' Mohon said.

The area ''looks completely different when you're seven or eight stories up. They're now level with the runway,'' she said. They also were moved from the west side of the field to the east side, ''so their whole vantage point has changed.''

Weather was clear and visibility was good Friday, ''so they're managing this very well,'' Mohon said.

Flight delays were about 30 minutes, she said. Planes were coming in at a rate of about 30 an hour -- 75 percent of the normal 40.

''The passengers have been very understanding. They understand that we've just had an earthquake. Everybody's doing the best they can,'' Mohon said.

Some airlines had canceled flights, which helped lessen the delays, she said.

Seattle software developer John Martin, 53, was at the airport Friday for a flight to Denver. He'd been scheduled to leave Wednesday, and missed a meeting, but was philosophical about it.

''It would be frustrating if it were mechanics or airline pilots on strike -- things that can be avoided,'' Martin said. ''But you can't avoid an earthquake.''

The controllers will be moved soon, probably this weekend, to a nearby hillside and set about 80 feet atop stacked shipping containers to give them a better view, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jerry Snider in Los Angeles.

''The higher they are the better they can see and the more planes they can bring in safely,'' Mohon said.

The tower controllers also control airplane traffic on the ground and mind the taxiways and gates.

All but one of the heavy glass windows in the tower were shattered. The radar room below was undamaged and operations there continue as before, she said.

The temporary digs will be used for six or eight weeks, until repairs can be made to the top of the tower. Snider said the building has been deemed structurally sound.

Crews went in early Thursday ''and welded beams together to keep the tower from collapsing,'' Mohon said.

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