Many travelers who had been stuck in Bethel for weeks over the holidays have finally made it home to their villages on Grant Aviation flights.
But now, there’s a new batch of passengers stranded in the Western Alaska hub. The regional airline says it’s working to get them home and the backlog of mail delivered.
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The smell of bologna and bread fill the air at the Grant Aviation terminal. There are piles of donated sandwiches and snacks on folding tables. Bethel resident Aggie Gregory helped coordinate the donations by word of mouth and through Facebook posts. She’s been trying to keep stranded passengers fed since early December.
“A lot of people have made it home,” she said. “We saw a lady this morning go home that had been here since the 15th of December.”
Hundreds of passengers had been stuck in Bethel over the holidays due to poor weather and ill-equipped airports in the Y-K Delta. It was the rainiest December ever recorded, with unrelenting storm systems.
According to Grant Aviation’s vice president of operations, Dan Knesek, many Y-K Delta village airports don’t have up-to-date navigation and weather tools, which makes it impossible to fly in low visibility. If the visibility is low, the pilot needs to land using navigation instruments. If the airport doesn’t have them, the plane can’t land.
One woman from Kongiganak finally made it home on Jan. 4 after being stranded for a month and three days in Bethel. She told KYUK Translator Joann Andrew that she had to spend New Year’s Eve alone. The woman had been in town for a doctor’s appointment, so while she was stuck she stayed at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation hostel.
Newly stranded passenger Katie Frutiger had only been stuck for two-and-a-half days when she spoke to KYUK. She said the wait has given her a chance to catch up with Gregory, the food donation coordinator, and her husband, Willie John.
“These are old friends of mine, actually. So it’s really good to see the friends and the food,” said Frutiger.
Frutiger’s flight to Toksook Bay got canceled again on Jan. 4. Grant Aviation told her that it was because the wind cone was blowing in the wrong direction. But Frutiger was enjoying herself at the terminal, so she hung out for a bit before she headed back to stay with friends for another night.
Knesek, from the airline, said that though the past few days have been bad for weather and cancellations, the next few days look good.
He said that that Grant Aviation is also making it through the piles of backlogged mail. He said that they sent out a lot of mail on New Year’s Day, working through the holiday to get the job done. The airline plans to send out more later this week.
Back at the terminal, John, a singer and guitarist for the Bethel Band, pulled out his guitar and began playing an appropriate song by John Denver: “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
Joann Andrew contributed additional reporting.