Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Fearless Fliers in Alaska

Cindy Scarr

In the Alaskan tundra, fierce winds and hostile terrain isolate hundreds of villagers from humanity, food supplies, and medical aid. The pilots of Era Aviation bridge the yawning divide with their bush planes, specially outfitted to brave the subzero temperatures and hurricane-speed winds that are practically humdrum to Northern Alaskans.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

“Planes are for Alaska what semi-trailer trucks are for the lower world,” says Susan Aikens, supervisor of the Kavik River Camp, one of the remotest outposts in Alaska. Though the camp is equipped with Wi-Fi capability as well as phones, the closest big city is Fairbanks, 500 miles (800 km) to the south, and the closest road is 80 miles (130 km) to the east.

Aikens lives in the Kavik camp year-round, much of the time alone. “I like the challenge that it brings to me,” she says. “It’s not a forgiving environment. One thing you can say about Alaska is it either gets into your blood or it doesn’t. And if it gets into your system, then no matter where you go, there’s a calling to come back.”

The only way for Susan to receive supplies is by bush plane — a general aviation aircraft usually used in the African bush, the Alaskan and Canadian tundra, and the Australian outback. By the second week of September, it’s already -5°F (-20°C) to -10°F (-23°C) in Kavik, and she’s taking possession of the last delivery she’ll get for the next nine months. The next one will arrive in June of the following year.

“If I don’t get it in with the bush pilots, there is no getting it,” she puts it bluntly. “If I need anything, if I get hurt, planes are the only way I can get assistance.”

At no time was that more true than when Susan was attacked and dragged off by a grizzly bear. “I got attacked by a grizzly two years ago,” she told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. “I had to sew my own head together, my arm, and before my legs gave out, I went across the river, found the bear, shot him, GPSed it, called the trooper, and there I lay.” The trooper alerted the bush pilots, who sent a plane to save her.

“I don’t know many people who can live through a grizzly attack and then tell the story and laugh about it,” says pilot John Ponts, who flies in Susan’s supplies. Ponts, an adventure-seeking, ex-professional skateboarder, traded in his skateboard for the excitement and “real freedom” flying the skies of rural Alaska. He currently works for Era Aviation, the largest regional aviation company in Alaska. And in Northern Alaska, where standard transportation stands no chance against the elements, the bush plane industry is a vital tool of survival.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"