Thirteen minutes is all that stands between Mitch Seavey and Aliy Zirkle, the top two teams in this year’s Iditarod. Seavey’s team took just over 90 minutes longer than Zirkle’s to reach the checkpoint. But Jeff King’s team is still within striking distance after arriving third. Teams are resting for a mandatory eight hours. It’s an unusual year when the Iditarod comes down to the last long run from White Mountain.
It was after 5 a.m. before a light was finally spotted as it rounded a bend along the Fish River. Locals at the village of White Mountain ring the church bell when the first Iditarod musher comes through their community.
The light belonged to Mitch Seavey, who arrived visibly tired and ready for his eight hour mandatory rest.
Thirteen minutes later, Aily Zirkle pulled into the checkpoint, jumping up and down on the back of her sled. She was clearly pleased with her run.
“Lucky number 13,” she said.
This is Zirkle’s 13th Iditarod. She’s running a team of dogs who came off the Yukon Quest last month.
“Holy cow, there are some hills back there, but the Yukon Quest dogs know how to climb hills, I’ll tell you that much. So do Yukon Quest mushers,” Zirkle said.
Teams run along a tough portage trail out of Elim. They climb over a steep hill called little McKinley. Zirkle’s hands are reportedly covered in blisters after using her ski pole to help her team climb over a series of hills. Zirkle knew Seavey was ahead, but she didn’t know by how much. She says she knew he wasn’t pushing much.
“You can look in the snow and see only every once in a while his footprints,” Zirkle said.
When Jeff King pulled into White Mountain he said whoever was running in front of him worked hard to stay ahead.
“I could tell one of them were working so hard going over the hills, there’s footprints and I just went ‘Oh my God!’ Every hill had footprints right next to each other,” King said.
Over a heaping plate of lasagna in the checkpoint, King said he still planned to win the race. He says running as the rabbit is nerve wracking, but he gets a kick out of chasing down the competition.
The top teams in this year’s Iditarod likely won’t be decided until they cross under the burled arch in Nome. That’s because teams have spent the last quarter of the race, if not the last 900 miles leap frogging each other as they travel down the trail.
For a brief time in this year’s Iditarod, all eyes were on Aaron Burmeister’s team. But the dogs caught a bug near Eagle Island and the Nome musher had to rethink his race plan.
“It’s very frustrating because we came the race to win the Iditarod and with a team capable of winning the Iditarod. Just to be hammered with one little bug after another, it’s part of racing, it’s something we deal with, but it’s hard to swallow you know when your hopes are so high and the team is so strong,” he said.
Burmeister admits time is running out with only a few checkpoints left before the finish line in Nome, but, he says it’s not impossible.
“There’s a few teams ahead of us that potentially we can pick off if I can get the dogs healthy on these next couple runs,” Burmeister said.
Jake Berkowitz’s dogs also caught the stomach bug that’s going around. He was extremely concerned about his team when he rolled into Unalakleet. He also completely reworked his race plan.
“I’m not letting another pack catch us. We’re solidly in the top ten, but I really want to keep this group of 15 together. If I drop one or two here or there, but a nice big group to the finish line,” Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz is the only musher at the front of the pack to have a team as big. That has both mushers and spectators scratching their heads. But the Big Lake musher’s goal is to build long-term careers for his dogs, not to win a single Iditarod.
“There’s other factors at plan and our factor right now is we still have some young dogs and instead of racing really hard and finishing with eight dogs, that doesn’t benefit me in the future,” Berkowitz said.
Dogs have changed things up for rookie Joar Lleifseth Ulsom.
“Yeah, I’m very, very surprised. They’re doing much better than I thought and I’m very happy with each individual dog in the team,” Lleifseth Ulsom said.
Lleifseth Ulsom was hoping to finish in the top-20 this year. Unless something goes awry, he’s likely to claim Rookie of the Year and a top-10 finish. The Norwegian says the biggest surprise is due to his inexperience. His team is surrounded by well-seasoned Iditarod veterans.
“Especially now, when we’re getting further in the race and a little bit tired and stuff, it’s hard for me to figure out what’s going on. I’m not awake enough to figure out what they’re doing,” Lleifseth Ulsom said.
Fairbanks-area musher Ken Anderson hadn’t given the next series of runs much thought, but pulling into Koyuk in 11th place did motivate him to think about trying to move up.
He fell behind on the Yukon River after coming down with a head cold.
Anderson is the only member of his team to get sick. He says his dogs have been healthy for the entire run from Willow. But, he says, he knows enough to be careful if he does decide to make a move.
When teams reach Koyuk, there are less than 100 miles left before they take their mandatory eight hour rest in White Mountain, 77 miles outside the finish line. Mushers can break this stretch of trail into two or three shorter runs. It’s too long and likely too late in the game for most mushers to try and do it all in one shot. But this year, it seems, almost anything can happen to shake up the race.
Over the weekend, federal investigators were at the crash site of the ACE Air Cargo plane that went down in the Muklung Hills Friday morning, killing the pilot and co-pilot.
Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, with the NTSB taking the lead. Larry Lewis, an Air Safety Investigator with NTSB, was on the site this weekend.
“We’re in the preliminary phases of an investigation. We’ve been out to survey the wreckage, and were able to take a primary look at the structures and engines and things up on the mountain. Now we’re waiting for the aircraft to be recovered, a process which will take some time.”
Other details about the crash will be included in a preliminary report due out in a week or two. What may have caused the crash is likely to take longer to determine. There was no flight recorder onboard, so investigators will survey what wreckage can be salvaged. Recovering materials off the mountain is left to ACE Air Cargo’s insurance provider.
“We’ve been in touch with those folks, and they have the go-ahead to bring it back for us. They’ll sequester it, and we’ll take a look at it.”
According to the NTSB, the ACE Air Cargo flight was carrying mostly mail at the time of the crash, some of which Lewis noticed on his preliminary site survey.
“We saw a good bit of mail and other property up there. If salvage crews are able to get up there, they should be able to recover it.”
The ACE Air Cargo Beech 1900 dropped off radar at about 8:15am Friday morning, enroute to Dillingham from King Salmon. An emergency beacon indicated a crash site in the Muklung Hills, roughly 20 miles northeast of Dillingham. Captain Jeff Day, 38, and First Officer Neil Jense, 20, both of Anchorage, were killed in the crash. Their remains were recovered early Saturday morning and transported to Anchorage.
The Anchorage Assembly voted 6-3 to shut down public testimony on a controversial proposal that would limit city unions Monday night.
Testimony was some of the most heated and emotional yet in the month long debate. Workers outlined details of their jobs in an attempt to convey their value to the Assembly, and a labor law expert pointed out problems with the ordinance, claiming it would bring lawsuits to the Municipality. Some who testified warned Assembly members that voters were watching them and would retaliate come Election Day. Toward the end the meeting, Assembly member Paul Honeman motioned to allow public testimony to continue. When Chairman Ernie Hall tallied the votes the audience protested.
“Hall: We’ve got, um, 6 no, 3 yes and 1 excused so the motion fails. Audience members: Thank you for respecting us … (banging of gavel)… you don’t represent no one here.”
The proposed ordinance was announced on Feb. 8 by Mayor Dan Sullivan. It would limit union longevity and performance pay, benefits, and eliminate binding arbitration along with strikes. It would also allow some municipal jobs to be contracted out. Sullivan says the changes are needed to keep costs down, and the ordinance must be rushed because of upcoming union negotiations. Friday, union leaders representing 2,200 or so municipal employees offered a one-year wage freeze in exchange for tabling of the ordinance. After continuing public testimony was voted down, Sergeant Gerard Asselin, who represents the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association, offered this comment. He said the assembly was breaking its own code by limiting testimony.
“Under Municipal Code it provides that the Chair shall instruct people, public speakers, to be brief but it does not contain any provision allowing the chair to limit certain people who wish to speak to zero time,” Asselin said.
Chairman Hall calls the Assembly action legal, despite a letter from the ACLU of Alaska that warned it would be “improper” to shut down testimony before everyone had a chance to speak. After listening to four 5-hour evenings of public testimony from well over 300 people, Hall was ready to look at what the Municipal Charter says in a different way than the ACLU.
“No, I don’t think I’m in conflict with municipal code. Municipal code says reasonable time. At the end of the meeting another 3 or 4 hundred people stood up and said they hadn’t had the opportunity to testify yet. It appeared that it turned into an opportunity to filibuster. And we just got to the point where after 20 hours … what the charter says is reasonable time and we felt that we had given reasonable time and chose to close,” Hall said.
Hall says he has consulted municipal attorneys on the matter and is confident they made the right decision. The Assembly is postponing final action on he matter until March 26, and Halls says people still have time to contact assembly members and submit written testimony to the clerk.
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Mitch Seavey is back in the Iditarod lead. He passed Jeff King halfway through the run from Koyuk to Elim along the Bering Sea Coast. King surprised everyone by speeding through the Koyuk checkpoint at 8:20 this morning, stopping less than six minutes. That put him out front for most of the day. Mitch Seavey left the checkpoint three hours after King. Aliy Zirkle, Ray Redding Jr and Aaron Burmeister followed a few hours later. APRN trail reporter Emily Schwing is in Koyuk. She says King’s dogs looked good when they passed through the checkpoint.
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Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze is a big fan of Alaska produce. Where other legislators offer cookies or chocolates to their guests, Rep. Stoltze stocks his office with carrots.
“Alaskan carrots have an incredible flavor profile. You can tell the difference when you buy one from the local store and you buy one that’s produced in the Mat Valley or the Tanana Valley or anywhere else in Alaska,” says Stoltze. “The flavor profile is leaps and bounds better.”
Stoltze would like more Alaskans to eat local carrots, and potatoes, and fish for that matter. Less than 5 percent of food consumed in Alaska is harvested in the state, according to a 2007 study by the United States Department of Agriculture.
To that end, Stoltze wants the governor to create a new working group focused on increasing food production in Alaska, for consumption in Alaska. His resolution laying out objectives for the group unanimously passed the House on Monday.
The idea is that the commission would bring together representatives from different state agencies and have them work local food production into their missions. For example, the Division of Homeland Security could be directed to include more Alaska products in their emergency management plans. The Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development could be encouraged to do more promotional work for the state’s fish and produce.
Stoltze also sees a role for the Department of Corrections.
“We have some big dormitories being built in the Valley,” says Stoltze. “It’d be nice if they’re buying seasonally more lettuce, instead of buying it out of Salinas, California, or Washington, especially with freight costs and energy costs.”
The resolution doesn’t provide many details for what the working group would look like, leaving that up to the governor’s discretion. The only real directive is that the working group collaborate with the Alaska Food Policy Council, a panel with a similar mission that has a mix of private and public members.
But one thing that it’s not is a new Department of Agriculture. Stoltze says he doesn’t want the commission to act like a new state bureaucracy. He also says that he wants food production in the state to grow by using already existing infrastructure, instead of putting money behind something like a new state creamery.
“[Alaska food production] is going to increase incrementally. And it’s a lot stronger if it grows that way,” says Stoltze. “It’s not going to be through these government mega-projects, which I’ll run as fast as I can the other way from folks that propose those types of ideas about a big commune or a coop.”
The resolution doesn’t allocate money for a working group or set a timeline for its creation, but Stoltze says he’s been in communication with the governor’s office and that the legislation falls in line with Sean Parnell’s goal of increasing food security in the state. A companion measure is currently working its way through the Senate.
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Homer city officials are expressing relief over a jury’s verdict Thursday exonerating the actions of Homer Police Department officers during a 2006 shootout at the Homer Airport, although attorneys for the plaintiff have promised to appeal the case.
The eight-member jury ruled for the defendants on all counts Thursday, denying any financial compensation to Cherry Dietzmann, the mother of a two-year-old boy who was shot and seriously injured during the incident.
No one was perhaps more pleased with the verdict than Homer City Manager Walt Wrede.
“It’s a relief,” said Wrede. “This has been going on for seven years and so … it’s been a long time for (the police officers involved) to be … carrying this with them and not being able to talk about it.”
The case stems from a chaotic scene that unfolded at the airport when U.S. Marshals, working with Homer Police and Alaska State Troopers, attempted to apprehend 31-year-old Jason Anderson, Sr., a wanted drug felon from Minnesota who had fled to Homer.
The marshals lured Anderson to the airport after convincing him there was a problem with his rented Jeep Cherokee. When police cornered him, he pulled a handgun and three Homer Police officers returned fire. Anderson, Sr. was killed during the resulting shootout and his then-two-year-old son, Jason Anderson, Jr., was shot in the head. The boy lost sight in one eye and suffered brain damage that has required 24-hour medical care ever since.
All three Homer Police officers named in the lawsuit – Stacy Luck, William Hutt and Dave Shealy – still serve on the police force. Wrede says they did not know that Anderson’s children were in the vehicle until after the shooting, when Officer Hutt found that Anderson’ Junior had been shot and began performing CPR on the boy.
Wrede says he hopes the verdict erases any doubt in the minds of Homer’s citizens that the officers acted appropriately during the tragic incident.
Frank Koziol represented the city at trial. He says one of the main disputes in the trial was whether the bullet that struck Jason Anderson, Junior was fired by his father or by one of the Homer Police officers.
“The city’s position has always been that (Jason Anderson, Sr.) took the .45 Ruger and put it against his son’s … left cheek and pulled the trigger.”
Koziol says that was the same conclusion drawn by the State Medical Examiner Frank Fallico. The idea was backed up by evidence presented by forensic experts, including the pattern of the wound on the boy’s cheek and an imprint of the muzzle of the gun found on the boy’s cheek afterward.
Koziol presented two pathologists who confirmed the medical examiner’s findings, including Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a nationally renowned expert on gunshot wounds who has authored several books on the subject.
Another issue at trial was the training and procedures of the Homer Police Department and whether the officers acted recklessly when they opened fire on Anderson. Koziol maintains that the officers followed their training.
Dietzamnn settled a separate lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals in 2011 in the amount of $3.5 million dollars. Information about that settlement was not presented to the jury during the City of Homer trial.
Koziol says the total amount of damages that could have been awarded to Dietzmann if she had won the case would have been somewhere between $40-50 million dollars.
Phillip Weidner is the lead attorney for Dietzmann. He offered a brief statement on the outcome of the trial.
“All I can say is that we’re extremely disappointed with the verdict and we definitely intend to appeal,” said Weidner.
That appeal would be filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, headquartered in San Francisco.
Koziol says he will likely be filing a motion to recover court and attorney’s fees on behalf of the city. That matter would be decided by District Court Judge Robert Bryan, who presided over the trial.
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For years, Airport Heights Elementary School has had a hard time attracting students from the neighborhood right next door. The school has struggled with low achievement scores and those statistics have convinced dozens of neighborhood parents to drive their kids to higher performing schools in the district. But this year, teachers and administrators at Airport Heights have started an initiative they hope will lure those families back.
A circle of second-graders dance and sing along with their teacher at Airport Heights Elementary School. Teacher, Marcy Jasper, says the singing and many other activities at the school are part of something they’re calling “Dream Big Academy.”
“The Dream Big Academy is a way of stepping back from what we do traditionally maybe in a lot of classrooms and recognize that the best way to achieve excellence in academics is to make sure we have students who know how to interact with others positively, respectfully and responsibly and safely,” Jasper said.
“Dream Big” gives Airport Heights teachers 12 weeks out of the school year to try original curriculum or projects that encourage their students to explore non-traditional subjects. The aim is to make learning relevant. The result is things like singing and dancing to promote social and emotional learning. Older students are doing projects. One group is growing basil and selling it to local restaurants. In the process, they’re learning science, entrepreneurship and teamwork. The “Dream Big Academy” is the brainchild of staff, parents, some community members and Principal Michael Webb.
“The Dream Big Program is just the way Airport Heights is looking at offering our kids access to what school’s about, where they can go in their life – why the school’s important to them because of what they’re going to be when they grow up,” Webb said. “We provide a lot of opportunities for hands on experience.”
Today, Linnet Moser is teaching her kindergartners about careers. Her students sit in a circle matching tools with careers, as a way to build vocabulary.
“Would a gardener need a fire extinguisher? Noooo! Would a firefighter need a fire extinguisher? Yes!,” Moser said.
Moser says learning the vocabulary is important because at least 5 of her 17 students did not speak any English when they started school.
“The kids are coming in with Hmong, Samoan, Tagalog from the Philippines, Spanish, several Alaska Native dialects.,” Moser said.
More than 30 percent of the 335 or so students at Airport Heights are Asian and Pacific Islander and nearly 20 percent are Alaska Native and American Indian. More than a dozen languages are spoken at the school and one third are English language learners. It’s a Title 1 school and receives extra funding to provide support to economically disadvantaged kids. Eighty-five percent qualify for free and reduced lunch. Back in 2006, areas south and east of the school were incorporated into the school during a rezoning of the district. Since then, test scores have plummeted. Last year, 44 percent of 5th graders were not proficient in reading. Almost 70 percent of 3rd graders were not proficient in math. Numbers like that were concerning to Kjerstin Thomas – so she chose a different school for her daughter.
“It was really hard for me to see 30-40-50 maybe 60 percent proficient in any area – a lot of 40s. And so that was a big part of it really. Because my daughter was going into school starting to read. And I felt like, is she going to have any peers who are ready to go with her or is the teacher going to be overwhelmed?,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a former classroom teacher, would prefer to send her kids to the school right around the corner. Her younger son starts school in a few more years and she says she would consider enrolling both kids at Airport Heights, if the school improves.
Harmony Lanen Roll lives a few streets down from Thomas. She also worked as a teacher, in a Title 1 School, before having kids. Her older son starts kindergarten the year after next, and she says wants to send him to Airport Heights.
“Community is a huge part of it. You know, knowing your neighbor’s kids are going to school with your kids and that they’re walking to school together. I think the diversity would be amazing. I want my kids world view to be opened up by seeing other cultures,” Roll said.
Roll is hoping the “Dream Big Academy” will spur overall academic improvement at Airport Heights. If it does, she’ll consider enrolling her son. Principal Webb says concerns about test scores are understandable. And he wants neighborhood parents to know that Airport Heights Elementary is making progress. Last year reading and writing scores went up by about 3 percent. And he has a message to neighborhood parents.
“It’s about school choice for parents – that they want to make the best choice for their kids. And really, when parents come in and tell me this I say, you know what, I take my hat off to you. That’s what we want in parents in our school district. The part I wanted to say to them too is I would invite you to come and knock on my door and say look, ‘I want you to fix this school because I should have a school like that in my own neighborhood,” Webb said.
More involvement by local parents, Webb says, could also help improve the school. In the Meantime, Webb hopes the “Dream Big” program will keep test scores and student learning heading in the right direction, and perhaps get those neighborhood parents to give the school another chance.
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The state is proposing a land sale in the Central area. The Department of Natural Resources is taking public comment on the 600 acre subdivision about a mile and half northeast of Central. D.N.R. Northern region land sales manager Timothy Shilling says the land was identified for sale under a management plan that classified it for private recreation.
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For the next several weeks, APRN will be airing a series that looks at how Alaskans describe what makes their way of life unique. Whether you live in a village or a city, everyone has a culture and we’re going to bring you stories of how both urban and rural Alaskans define and live theirs.
Today, Iditarod leaders are closing in on Elim on their way to the finish line in Nome. Nine days ago, just after leaving downtown Anchorage, they turned onto the Chester Creek trail and passed by one “trail party” after another. Along this stretch, as along much of the trail to Nome, the Iditarod means community. As Jessica Cochran tells us, the race is part of our culture – one of the ways we identify ourselves as Alaskans.
The organizers of Trailgate 2013 were out early the morning the Iditarod started: putting up flagging along the trail, stomping down snow and carving an “ice bar” for their festive party. There is a sound system with music, beer and bloody mary’s and hot dogs. But Emily Fahrenbacher says the main point of the whole event is community.
“Our whole group of friends is very committed, we’re all involved in various things in Anchorage and we really just want to keep it building community, and there are so many people who have come who believe in the same things we do, Alaska, having fun, and so I thinks that’s what it’s really all about, making sure there are events like this for people to plug into,” Fahrenbacher said.
It’s the 4th year of Trailgate, the first in this location, complete with city permits. It’s a little much for some of the old-timers who have come here to watch the Iditarod start for decades, like Patricia Greenland and Keith Cooper.
“We haven’t missed it since probably 79 or 80,” Greenland said.
Greenland and Cooper cheer on each musher by name, their newspaper listing of the starting order in hand. Kids line the trail, hands out to high five the passing mushers, scurrying after dog booties or candy. Neighbors see each other for perhaps the only time all year:
“It used to be isolated, not that many people knew about it, and now there are all kinds of people here and parties,” Greenland said.
Cooper says the race creates a “unifying” feeling among the whole community – not just Anchorage, but much of Alaska. Mark Wedekind agrees.
“The Iditarod is unique to Alaska, and I think a lot of people appreciate that and that’s why a lot of people are out here,” Wedekind said.
Of course there are lots of events unique to Alaska; for some it may be Fur Rondy, or the Gold Medal basketball tournament in Southeast that helps define being an Alaskan. But, the Iditarod gets the most attention from Outside Alaska; it shines a spotlight on places that aren’t usually in the spotlight.
Like White Mountain, where mushers have to take a mandatory eight hour layover near the end of the race. Mayor Daniel Harrelson says the Iditarod gives big city Alaskans insight into life in the villages:
“When they’re traveling from village to village there’s excitement all along the trail. I think it gives a lot of folks in Anchorage and Fairbanks and even Outside Alaska, it gives people a peak at what rural Alaska is like,” he said.
Harrelson says the Iditarod is a busy time for a village that is usually very quiet. Crystal Holmberg is the city clerk in McGrath, one of the earlier checkpoints. She agrees it’s a hectic week. But she says it’s fun too, especially for the kids in town:
“Oh my gosh, they love it. They’re always out there getting autographs and their spring break is around this time so they’re off of school for the Iditarod, so they get to really be a part of it, they come down to the checkpoint and do some things around here and get to talk to the mushers. So they really get a kick out of it,” Holmberg said.
Kate Persons watched the start back in Anchorage; she did the race four times in the early 1990’s, and she feels that as the race has gotten bigger – it’s a lost a little something:
“The first year I ran it was the last year that mushers were allowed to stay with families along the trail, and I’m so glad that I has a chance to see that and just see the enthusiasm that there was for the race along the trail, and I felt that in the years after that, it was less so,” Persons said.
And yeah, it’s possible to exaggerate the importance of the Iditarod to the people who watch it each year. Seven year old Marley Ireland’s family hosts a brunch for neighbors and friends, then heads out to watch the race.
“I like to eat the meat because I’m a meat lover,” Marley said when asked about her favorite part of the day.
Still, she has a collection of dog booties somewhere in her room and chances are, years in the future, she’ll remember that it was the Iditarod that brought her out here.
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Less than 170 miles separate Jeff King from Nome, as he left the Koyuk checkpoint just six minutes after checking in at 8:16 a.m. Monday.
Mitch Seavey, Aliy Zirkle, Ray Redington Jr., Aaron Burmeister and Joar Leifseth Ulsom all made it to Koyuk Monday morning, but have yet to leave in pursuit of King.
Seven other mushers are currently making the 50-mile run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk, including Jake Berkowitz, Dallas Seavey and Sonny Lindner.
The weather cleared up Saturday in the Bristol Bay region allowing the Alaska National Guard to recover the bodies of the pilot and copilot that were killed in Friday’s cargo plane crash north of Dillingham.
The crew onboard an Air national Guard HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter located the wreckage of the downed Beech 1900 aircraft about 6-am Saturday. Kalei Rupp is a spokeswoman with the Alaska National Guard. KDLG news spoke with her Saturday morning.
“We were able to land nearby. Because of the possible oncoming inclement weather and the terrain the Alaska State Troopers requested that the Alaska National Guard recover the bodies.”
The bodies were turned over to the State Medical Examiner’s Office and they were identified as 38-year old Jeff Day and 20-year old Neil Jensen. Day was the pilot and Jensen was the co-pilot. They were both from Anchorage. The Ace Air Cargo plane was flying to Dillingham from King Salmon but it never arrived in Dillingham. Instead it dropped off radar around 8:30 Friday morning. A statement from the Alaska State Troopers indicates that the aircraft was flying under instrument flight rules and was cleared to land at the Dillingham Airport. Around 9:15 Friday morning the plane’s “Emergency Locator Beacon” began transmitting from a location about 20-miles northeast of Dillingham in the Muklung Hills. Troopers and several volunteers tried to reach the crash site on snowmachines but they were turned around due to poor weather and snow conditions. Rupp say’s that’s why the Alaska National Guard was called in to assist in the search and rescue effort.
“We serve a civilian search and rescue function in the State of Alaska. We are equipped to search in difficult terrain and our Guardian Angel teams have lots of experience searching in mountainous regions.”
Friday’s search effort was hampered by a low cloud ceiling and poor visibility. It also snowed much of Friday in the area and that apparently forced caution on the part of emergency responders due to icing conditions. Both the FAA and the NTSB are investigating Friday’s plane crash with NTSB taking the lead.
Dog teams face the last 250 miles of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The trail runs along the windy coastline of the Bering Sea from Unalakleet to Nome. It’s getting close to the time when mushers will make some of their last moves. It’s only a matter of time before decisions on the trail turn into race results.
Mushers look at the 250 miles between Unalakleet and Nome a few different ways: it’s either a long way to go, or not long enough. For long time veteran Dee Dee Jonrowe, it’s likely somewhere in between. She came into the small coastal city with a sled full of water-logged gear.
“You know, it’s stupid to go up the coast, when you’re just semi-dry and your survival gear you can’t get into,” Jonrowe said.
Instead of chasing the leaders, Jonrowe opted to stay at the checkpoint long enough to dry out. She also wrapped hot pink wind and water proof raincoats around her dogs as they finished up second and third helpings of kibble and meat. From here to Nome, Jonrowe says calories are critical to keep dogs running.
“I would be really scared to take a dog out of here that wasn’t eating,” she said.
A dog rode for most nearly all of the 85 mile run from Kaltag to Unalakleet in Sonny Lindner’s sled bag. Lindner dropped her when he arrived. He says the coast is no place to carry extra weight.
“I gotta keep ‘em together now, you know?,” Lindner said.
Lindner has run the race more than 20 times. To cut down on weight and pick up some speed, he also switched out his sled. He traded his heavy tail dragger for a lighter coastal sled that rides higher.
“We used to use the coastal sled even in the very first ones. You need smaller teams, smaller pile of gear, short runs, end of the race. Get me outta here!,” Lindner said.
Aliy Zirkle is also a seasoned veteran, having finished the Iditarod 12 times. But her plan coming out of Kaltag backfired.
“I was hoping to draw out the guys who were already there earlier than they wanted to leave, so they didn’t rest their dogs as much and their dogs would be tired. Then I’d go camp at a cabin and be really cozy until they went by, but I didn’t make it to the cabin, so I was really cozy in a snow berm as usual,” Zirkle said.
She says her plan B also didn’t work out. As she scarfed pancakes and a cheeseburger in Unalakleet, Zirkle puzzled over the latest standings.
After a few hours rest, Zirkle still wasn’t sure how she’d approach the next few runs, unlike another long-time vet, who is very sure he won’t be leading the way into Nome.
“Iditarod, you used to have three or four shots at winning.”
Martin Buser lead for more the half the race, but lost his lead coming off the Yukon River.
“You know you could make a move, now the competition is such that you have one shot at trying something and if it doesn’t work, that’s it,” Buser said.
Buser opted to give his tired dogs some well-deserved rest before tackling the coast. He plans to bring his team of young dogs back for another try next year. He’d prefer his team has a fun run into Nome, without pushing too hard.
Like Buser, former champion Mitch Seavey knows that decisions made on the trail can sometimes come down to a gamble.
“At this point, I’m so tired, you just kind make something up,” Seavey said.
The 19-time finisher had little to say beyond emphasizing the importance of rest as he dug through his sled looking for more weight to drop before he left to drive his team along the coast to Shaktoolik and across the sea ice to Koyuk.
Former Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey was the first musher into Unalakleet, checking in at 10:13 a.m. Sunday.
Aaron Burmeister is hot on Seavey’s heels, riding into Unalakleet less that 15 minutes later.
Twenty mushers are currently making the 85-mile run from Kaltag.
Every musher out of Kaltag has taken both their 8-hour and 24-hour layovers.
With a climb through the Alaska Range and a run down the Yukon River now behind them, Iditarod mushers have only to tackle the Bering Sea coast before they cross the finish line in Nome. But there’s still a third of the race to go. Overnight, the front-runners left Kaltag for Unalakleet. It’s the longest run of the race. KUAC’s Emily Schwing caught up before they set off.
The Iditarod trail travels 225 miles along the Yukon River. It’s a series of runs Montana musher Jesse Royer says she can do without.
“I hate the river because it’s flat and boring and you go forever and you feel like you’re on a big treadmill and it’s like a big sugar bowl out there at the moment. If it was a good trail and you could really travel, that would be one thing, but it’s just like running in sugar,” Royer said.
Royer was sixth to arrive in Kaltag, but she stayed much longer than others. Race rules require teams to take an eight hour mandatory rest at any of the four checkpoints along the river. Kaltag is her last opportunity.
“So I’m probably only running around 15th or so because there’s a whole bunch of teams coming up the river that are gonna catch me, because they’ve already done their eight,” Royer said.
The run on the river was rough. Teams were rained on and pummeled by wind. Then, they slogged through deep, loose snow in the hot sunshine. Martin Buser came in first to Kaltag, but he lost a significant amount of time on the river. He joked about it as he bedded down his dogs.
“It was horrible, it was torture, I felt like I was going backwards!,” Buser said.
Buser ‘s team laid down in the straw and drifted off almost immediately. They relinquished their lead to last year’s second place finisher Aliy Zirkle, who stopped only briefly in Kaltag to pick up a few things.
Zirkle had already rested outside the checkpoint. Her small, alert dogs waited as she packed her sled with snacks and gear for another stop up the trail. She made a point to grab a pair of dry socks.
“Everything is wet, my sleeping bag, my feet…,” Zirkle said.
Zirkle tried to move fast, but not fast enough. Mitch Seavey came by just as she was leaving.
Zirkle never explained her plan. But she took off with a furrowed brow, determined to get to Unalakleet, and the Bering Sea Coast beyond.
About three hours separate Martin Buser from Aliy Zirkle and the rest of the pack.
Buser checked out of Eagle Island at 2:41 a.m. Saturday morning for his 60-mile run to Kaltag.
Seven other mushers have departed Eagle Island, including Zirkle, Mitch Seavey, Jessie Royer and Aaron Burmeister.
Royer is the only musher of the seven who has not taken both the mandatory 8-hour and 24-hour layovers.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom is the only rookie in the top-20, leaving Eagle Island in seventh place.
Iditarod mushers running outside of this year’s top-20 are just as competitive as the front of the pack, but they have different reasons for travelling the trail.
It takes a lot of effort to develop a competitive dog team. That’s exactly what Chatanika musher Jodi Bailey is doing with her group of young dogs. This is Bailey’s third Iditarod.
“I’m still learning a lot about the mechanics of the race and in a lot of ways, Iditarod is like a chess game. There are so many checkpoints and possibilities, but in general we’re having a lot of fun, they seem to be keeping good spirits and good weight, so all in all that’s what I was hoping to be able to say at this point in the race,” Bailey said.
Bailey is running in the middle of the pack, but that doesn’t mean she’s not running competitively.
“You can be in this part of the race and still say I want to beat this person or this time and that’s still just as valuable as being at the front of the race,” Bailey said.
But she doesn’t have plans to push young dogs for a high placement.
“It usually happens that there are some people that overestimated what they are capable of, but don’t expect Jodi Bailey to go busting a move. I just want to keep having fun and I want to make sure these dogs keep having fun,” Bailey said.
Kristy Berington is running the race for the fourth time. She has successfully pushed a young team.
“I remember a couple of years ago, I was getting competitive because I really wanted to be in the top 30 and I got 29th. Kelly Maixner was right around the same place as me, and it was between me and him who was gonna get the 30th spot and I remember he came up on me and passed me and I felt this defeated feeling and then I saw his head light and I was like ‘We’re not giving up, we’ve got this thing,” Berington said.
This is twin sister Anna’s second Iditarod. She says she’s usually closer to the finish line before she starts racing in the middle of the pack.
“I think the closer we get to the end people start to look at the standings and think they can pick off a couple people. They start to get that bug,” she said.
The Berington’s are also training dogs for future Iditarods, competitive dogs that will eventually need to know how to get their mushers to the finish line as quickly as they can.
Martin Buser has again regained the Iditarod lead, departing Grayling at 12:52 p.m., staying at the checkpoint for only 10 minutes.
Aliy Zirkle, Aaron Burmeister, Jake Berkowitz and Sonny Lindner round out the top-5.
Buser is the only competitor in the top-5 that has used both the mandatory 8-hour and 24-hour layovers.
A plane crashed Friday morning in the Muklung Hills, roughly 20 miles northeast of Dillingham, but by 6pm Friday, authorities had not been able to reach the crash site.
A pilot and co-pilot are believed to have been onboard an ACE Air Cargo Beechcraft 1900 Super King that went missing at 8:15am while enroute to Dillingham from King Salmon. Authorities are withholding the names. The plane appears to have crashed near the site of the 2010 crash that killed former Sen. Ted Stevens.
Efforts to locate the plane and attempt a rescue have been hampered by poor weather throughout the day. There was confusion earlier as it was believed the wreckage had been spotted; as of 6pm Friday evening, there have been no confirmed sightings of any wreckage, including by the Air National Guard assets on station. Authorities have determined a location based on coordinates from the plane’s ELT 406 beacon.
The search has been turned over to the Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. An Air National Guard HC-130 and HH-60 Pave Hawk Helicopter arrived early Friday afternoon. Both aircraft have Guardian Angel pararescue crews onboard and are expected to continue searching for the wreckage through Friday evening.
According to a written statement from the Alaska National Guard, snow and rain are creating icing problems for the aircraft, and a low cloud ceiling continues to frustrate the search.
“No sighting of the overdue aircraft has been made, and although the satellite is picking up the 406 signal, when crews fly overhead of the satellite coordinates, they can’t hear an audible VHF emergency locator signal,” said Master Sgt. Sal Provenzano, non-commissioned officer in charge of the RCC.
The first search and rescue efforts Friday morning were coordinated by the Alaska State Troopers in Dillingham; most were also thwarted by bad weather. Local pilots reported a “o/o visibility” over the Muklung Hills. A ground-search effort of about a dozen volunteers and EMTs on snowmachines left Dillingham at 11am, but were turned around within an hour; it was determined that recent rain and warm temperatures have created difficult, if not dangerous conditions for ground travel. An Egli Air helicopter in from King Salmon was also waved off on account of low visibility.
A U.S. Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk from Kodiak was on station by shortly after 12pm. The Jayhawk searched the area until it was relieved by the Air National Guard Assets at about 2pm.
The cause of the crash is unknown. Both the NTSB and the FAA will be investigating.
Neither The Energy Council nor its affiliated nonprofit CLEER has a website. They’re headquartered at the same address in Dallas, Texas. And The Energy Council’s filings with the government list its mission as serving as a “forum for governmental entities to discuss energy and environmental policy issues.”
That was on full display Friday morning at the elegant Washington Court Hotel.
Kansas State Senator Carolyn McGinn kicked off the conference by thanking the sponsors.
“Today’s luncheon is sponsored by a longtime friend of The Energy Council, Mr. Mike McGarey of the Nuclear Energy Institute,” she said.
“Tomorrow’s breakfast will be hosted by Sara Tays of Exxon Oil.”
And she concluded with a nod to BP Alaska.
“For a number of years, Paul Quesnel of BP Alaska as the primary sponsor for each and every CLEER University Advisory Board Seminar,” she said to applause. ”This meeting is no exception, and I’d like to ask Paul to stand so that we may thank him for his continuing generosity. Thank you Paul, and thank you BP.”
Indcluded on the list of attendees: Bill Brackin, ExxonMobil’s lobbyist in Alaska; Portia Babcock, ConocoPhillips’s chief lobbyist in Alaska; Michelle Egan with the Aleyeska Pipeline Service Company; Nikki Martin from the Alaska Oil and Gas Association; Rick Rogers, the executive Director of the Resource Development Council for Alaska.
The list includes about 20 members of the legislature. Some brought spouses, others brought staffers.
Sitka Republican Bert Stedman, chairman of The Energy Council, introduced Billy Tauzin. Tauzin, a Democrat turned Republican, is also a congressman turned D.C. lobbyist.
Stedman told the crowd they have something to learn from Tauzin’s career.
“As a Democrat he didn’t have Republican opposition. Then he swapped to the Republicans and didn’t have Democratic opposition,” he said while laughing at his own joke. “So we should all aspire to those goals, getting elected and not having opposition.”
Tauzin regaled the attendees, who were busy eating plates of bacon and eggs, with stories of a different Washington; of a Washington where opposing lawmakers came together to work on energy, or to fix the tax code.
He’s now lobbying former colleagues, aiming to protect certain federal tax provisions for oil producers.
“But as long as we have it, the provisions in the tax code that are critical to the production of energy in this country, and to strip them out to save a few billion dollars in a sixteen trillion dollar deficit situation, makes little sense to me,” Tauzin said during the convention’s keynote address.
Some lawmakers proposed cutting 2 to 4 billion dollars in tax credits to the oil industry as a way to offset spending.
“There’s one particular provision in the code I’m trying to preserve, which affects ConocoPhillips Alaska, which is a sponsor of this meeting today. It’s called dual capacity,” Tauzin said.
Tauzin said that provision prevents U.S. based oil companies from double taxation on foreign earned money – if they bring the money back to the US, they won’t be taxed on it.
Tauzin is lobbying to protect federal interests., but the lobbyists in from Alaska will have plenty of time to make the lower-taxes pitch to state lawmakers this weekend.
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