Bethel buzzed with excitement after two F-16 fighter jets made an emergency landing at the airport on the night of Sept. 22.
Steve Carr was checking on a few airplanes parked next to the Bethel air traffic tower when he heard the distinctive sound of fighter jets approaching. Carr then saw them dip low toward the runway.
“One guy landed, and then the, the other one stayed in formation during the landing. He kept going, flew basically right over the tower, and he put himself in a holding pattern over the airstrip. And that’s what everybody in town heard — him just circling in that holding pattern,” Carr said.
Carr said he just happened to have a handheld aviation radio on him and tuned in to listen to the air controller direct the surprise F-16s along with several other aircrafts trying to come in.
“That time of day, they’re just coming in from every direction. So he had all these guys, put them in the holding patterns for this emergency,” Carr said.
That meant several planes flew in circles above the tundra as they waited for their turns to land.
An Air Force spokesperson said the F-16s belonged to the 354th Fighter Wing stationed at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, and that one of the F-16s made an emergency landing in Bethel due to a mechanical problem. The issue popped up in flight while returning from a military exercise in the Asia-Pacific region. None of the pilots were injured.
Carr said Bethel residents lined up in their cars or drove down Tower Road to check out the F-16s.
“When leaving the airstrip coming down [Chief Eddie] Hoffman Highway, I saw about a dozen cars pulled off at the end of the north end of the airstrip where you can look off the highway right down the airstrip there,” Carr said.
The Eielson Air Force Base spokesperson said mechanics were on their way to Bethel to repair the jets.