Red Cross honors Igiugig woman for helping light runway during late-night medevac

Ida Nelson. (Photo courtesy of Ida Nelson)

medevac plane flew above Igiugig last August. It was late, around 11 p.m., but a child needed to be transported to Anchorage for intensive care.

Ida Nelson had just finished taking a steam when she heard the plane overhead.

“Somebody needed extended care, and the only way to get it is to get them on a medevac and out to Anchorage,” she said during last week’s Red Cross Real Heroes awards ceremony.

When the plane didn’t land, she went to the runway manager. The runway lights were out.

“I was like, ‘Well, can I light up the runway?’” Nelson said. “He was like, ‘Well, you can try.’”

But the light from her lone four-wheeler wasn’t going to be enough. As they communicated with the LifeMed pilot, Nelson’s neighbor started to get people to the airport.

“She was busy calling everybody in the village, waking them up and asking them, ‘Hey, run to the runway. We need to light up the runway so the plane can land,'”Nelson said. “Everybody came from the ages of like eight to 70 years old.”

Residents lined the runway with their vehicles to light the pilot’s way. The plane landed, and the child who needed care was transported to the hospital.

The story received international coverage. The Red Cross reached out to Nelson to offer her a Real Hero Award in the Alaska safety category.

Nelson said that for her, lighting up the runway is just another example of the community coming together.

“It’s something that we in Igiugig do constantly, like almost every day,” she said. “It’s just normal for us to go run out and help somebody when they need help. You don’t question the day or the time. If someone is in need you just go for help. That for us is — to me, at least, it’s normal. Someone needs help, they’re calling for help, you get up and go.”

There are 10 different categories for Alaska’s Red Cross Real Hero Awards, which started in 2000.

Nelson was one of 10 people to receive awards around the state. You can hear the stories of this year’s recipients at

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KDLG is our partner station in Dillingham. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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