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(moved)Never trust a weather obsr, except myself of course


Mission, TX
Working out of Galena AFB for Wien as station manager, light aircraft dispatcher, ticket agent, cargo loader, PR, kind of like chief cook and bottle washer (but will not tell what my wonderful wife said I was) we serviced a radar site named Kalakaket Creek south of Galena usually with a Porter, Twin Otter or Skyvan. On one trip when there was a very severe storm in western Alaska we didn't have an aircraft to operate the scheduled trip with. This had gone on for several days. I finally got a good report from the normal civilian employee at the radar site that reported clear, calm and runway breaking action of good. Keep in mind it was winter time.

Since I didn't have an aircraft available at Galena, I asked a friend from Ruby (lets keep the airline name unknown guys) if he would make the trip with his Cherokee 6, 300 and he said he would fly down run it for me. We loaded up a huge load of mail, important groceries and one 185 pound passenger, well, maybe 300 pounds or more but the PA-32 is forgiving at times. I had the pilot call over to the radar site on our HF radio to get current conditions and they were still the same so off he goes. I suspect, due to the weight of the passenger, the aircraft might have been very close to gross. hmmmmm The pilot looked everything over a couple of times and came in for a normal landing. Only problem was, on the mountain top it was glare ice at 30 to 32 degrees more or less and breaking action was nil or worse if that was posable. Those of us from up north know that ice at 32 degrees is unbelievably slick but at -30 degrees it is like wet asphalt. He used the entire runway and just before he went off the end, he powered up and turned the Cherokee sideways as he went off the end of the runway. All the load went, more or less, through the side of the aircraft instead of over the pilot and passenger. There were some injures but not really serious.

A side comment if I may here: one thing that determines what a true bush pilot is might be the time taken to know what to do in an emergency situation if something goes wrong. This pilot had no time but saved himself and his passenger by his quick thinking. That does not come from books, only knowing your and your aircraft's limits as a team. As such a stupid hot shot student pilot learned in his early years, I finally understood that. I was never a team with my PA-18, she was the master and she saved my life.

Now comes the unbelievable part.

Needless to say, I immediately notified our company since it was a company flight. I was told to take care of the problem and to contact our Kotzebue station and get a Twin Otter to ferry over and pick up the pilot and passenger and get them out for medical attention. Great, right? Wrong. Every Wien aircraft at Kotzebue and on the west coast were covered with snow drifts so high the drifts filtered inside the aircraft cabin and lots of freezing rain in the areas between Kotzebue and Galena and the same from Fairbanks and Nome. I checked around at other Wien stations but no aircraft available. Bethel was having the same problems. No joy there. Since we were serving an Air Force radar site, I called the Air Force at Elmendorf in Anchorage trying to get a chopper in to get the guys out. No go due icing. The Galena AFB only had F-4s so that didn't help. By this time, it was 3 days. They could not do it because of icing conditions and no serious problems with the pilot and passenger. Through constant communications with the radar site, I kept track of the guys that were being taken care of and they were in no serious condition and no pain according to the pilot who I talked to several times a day. They had an Air Force Medic on site. It took me five days to get those two out of that accident area and finally by my next door neighbor with a C-180 spam can.

How did it happen? Because some unbelievably stupid guy wanted to get a letter from his wife and he faked the runway breaking action reports. At every airport I was assigned to other than Anchorage and Fairbanks, I was always allowed access to the runway to take my own braking actions reports. I did the reports only our aircraft and took into consideration what the aircraft was and flight crew.

The aircraft was totaled of course but no lasting medical problems with the two on board thanks to some very fast actions of a great bush pilot that knew what to do in a fraction of a second. The site commander was kind of a friend of mine and I suspect that guy that reported the weather and runway braking action reports would have been considered to be put on KP for a year had he been military.

We never pushed weather into that site again and the guy never reported weather to us after that. Hope that letter from his wife was that important and at times later, I kind of hoped it would have been a Dear John letter.

As a licensed weather observer, it was always interesting reporting local weather to our pilots at times for flight crews from C-185s through 737s. What I reported, within reason, depended on who the flight crew was I suspect. Did I really say that? For non company flight crews it was always according to the book unless I knew them and they had my codes. Some of our flight crews had special codes we used so they would always know exactly what they were going into no matter what I reproted. Some were able to take a look and others were sent home to try another day and one flight like that almost cost me my job. My boss, the CEO, flew in on the next flight one time after I sent a C-46 home without reporting legal minimums. He had my final pay check because I wouldn't report minimum weather so the crew could take a look. Gee, what does a guy do when it is 00-00 and a 4500 foot mountain out the back door and the captain had never landed at the airport before. As I recall, minimum NDB approach was something like 1000 foot and 2 miles. By the way, I didn't get fired but he did later. Oh what a story that is but that would be degrading him and that I will never do as much as I would like to.

I can only say this now since the airline is no longer flying and the 7 year time limit is behind me. :wink:
"weather reports" would quite often qualify as fiction writing, except for length.

Invariably the most "creative" report(s) would come from PIZ (Cape Lisbourne). After 60 or so consecutive hourly rports of doggo wx with two feet of visibility and winds up to eighty knots; an "improving trend" would begin to develop about six hours prior to the scheduled twice-weekly departure of the mail from OTZ to Pt. Hope and Lizzie. Coincidentally the wx would continue to improve until just SLIGHTLY above/below published ceiling visibility and wind limits. Upon arrival in the vicinity of PIZ and contact with the ground "negotiations" would begin.

"How's the wx now?" I'd ask. The guy would come back with the vis 1/8 mile better, and 3 to 4 knots less wind. "Okay. I got lotsa' gas. I'll hang out 'n hold for a while." 10 to 12 minutes later ground to aircraft. "Hey we got another 1/8 of a mile here now, up to a mile and a 1/4 now and the winds down to 36 gusting to 42." "well, that's gettin' better, alright." Says I. "I'm still good on gas, so I'll hang with ya' a while yet."

After ten more minutes I call again and hear that we're "up to a mile and a half on the vis, winds remain 36 gusting to 42." "Good deal. That's a nice vis, now if the wind would either switch directions a little bit or die down some, maybe we can get something done here today."

"So, just CURIOUS down here....uh....how MUCH does the wind need to die down or switch directions by....?" Uh...no. I was born at night, but not LAST night.

At least going out to St. Lawrence Island I figured out the drill early.

Take WHATEVER the village agent reports. Reduce REPORTED ceiling and visibility by HALF. REVERSE wind direction and DOULBLE speed. You will then have a fairly accurate idea of the wx at either SVA or GAM. Be very good at FRACTIONS. Seldom are WHOLE NUMBERS involved in wx reports origination on that rock. I think they see the sun up six maybe seven times, in a YEAR.