Knowles: State government continues to function after national disaster

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Aviation restrictions that grounded planes in Alaska -- a state that depends heavily on air transportation in its most remote villages -- are expected to be lifted Wednesday, Gov. Tony Knowles said.

Knowles said he expected the restrictions to be lifted by noon on Wednesday. State officials had been talking with the Federal Aviation Administration following the unprecedented grounding of all civilian and commercial flights across the United States.

The grounding came on the same day terrorists crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center, another jetliner crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed near Pittsburgh.

Immediately after the most devastating terrorist onslaught against the United States, the FAA ordered all planes in flight to divert to the nearest airport.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta ordered commercial air traffic grounded until at least Wednesday. The grounding applied not only to major commercial aircraft but to air taxis, charter flights and even hunting and fishing guides.

State officials feared an extended grounding of commercial and civilian aircraft could create undue hardships in Bush Alaska, which relies on flights for food and other essential goods.

''They need to know the dependence Alaskans have on air traffic for places that do not have any ground traffic whatsoever,'' Knowles said earlier Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the FAA and the Air Force began allowing lifesaving flights in Alaska. At least two medical evacuations and two search and rescue flights were conducted in the state on Tuesday, despite the FAA restrictions.

Each flight was approved by the FAA and the Air Force, said Bob King, Knowles' press secretary.

''They are being allowed on a case-by-case basis,'' King said Tuesday.

In one case, an Army National Guard helicopter searched Mount Roberts near Juneau for a 79-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer's disease who walked away from a cruise ship on Monday, said Maj. Mike Haller of the Alaska Division of Emergency Services.

Rescue workers also continued a search for the grandson of former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill. His boat capsized Friday on the Tanana River about 60 miles west of Fairbanks. Michael Coghill, 26, of Nenana, remained missing Tuesday.

Medical transports were also conducted in Ketchikan and Fairbanks, Haller said.

State officials have talked to villages to assess how critical their supply situation is, Haller said. None reported supply shortages, he said.

''It's our hope that these delays won't be too prolonged,'' King said. ''But that decision is out of our hands.''

The heightened air security also prompted a brief evacuation of downtown Anchorage after a Korean Air Lines flight transmitted an emergency signal. That caused the state to send home three office buildings full of employees on Tuesday. Otherwise, state government continued to function.

The Atwood Building and two state court facilities were evacuated about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday when a Korean Air Lines jet en route to Anchorage and running low on fuel activated its emergency transponder.

Anchorage police briefly ordered all major downtown offices evacuated because it was not clear whether the beacon represented a low-fuel emergency or a hijacking, Knowles said. The KAL flight was intercepted by a fighter jet and diverted to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Knowles said.

An unknown number of state employees at the Atwood Building, where the governor's Anchorage office and some other state agencies are located, and the two state court buildings were sent home for the day, the governor's office said.

''I think we're talking about a couple hundred (people) here,'' King said. King said state government would be open on Wednesday.

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