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IZEMBEK: Emergency Landing of Continental Flight 6
Alaska Region, October 19, 2004
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At 4:30 a.m. on October 19, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Refuge Manager Rick Poetter was notified by the Airport Manager in tiny Cold Bay, Alaska (pop. 80)that an aircraft was inbound with an emergency. Such notification is standard procedure since, in an event of an airplane crash, Refuge staff provide perimeter security. Continental Airlines Flight 6, a Boeing 777 jumbo-jet with 241 passengers and 16 crew enroute from Tokyo to Houston had shut down one of its enormous engines. After the plane safely landed, it was determined that repairs could not be done quickly so a second plane was dispatched from Newark, New Jersey. The people of Cold Bay came to the rescue as every passenger vehicle in town was recruited to shuttle passengers to the school and new community center. The crew was delivered to a local lodge. The Refuge's 16-passenger bus, the only bus in town, shuttled passengers from the plane to their temporary quarters. Food and other essentials were collected and Continental authorized an open tab at Cold Bay's lone grocery store.

Refuge Manager Poetter, Wildlife Biologist Kristine Sowl, and Biological Technician Ty Donnelly used the occasion to offer tours of the Refuge to these unexpected guests. The Refuge's bus and two 4-door pickups took visitors to the Grant Point overlook, a viewing spot for the world renowned Izembek Lagoon and Bering Sea. Izembek Lagoon contains North America's largest eelgrass beds and is critically important to many international species of waterfowl as well as sea otters, harbor seals and an occasional gray or killer whale.

The weather was unseasonably warm for Cold Bay in October, fortunately since passengers had few coats and some were in shorts anticipating a Houston arrival. Cold Bay gets 13 days of full sun per year and is one of the windiest places in the U.S. But temperatures in the 50's, clear skies, and winds of less than 10 m.p.h. welcomed guests to a very enjoyable experience. Two female brown bears and cubs remained within a half-mile of the road during each tour. Five spotting scopes were set up and each passenger enjoyed great views of the lounging bears.

The tour was repeated five times so 120 passengers experienced the Izembek Refuge, including breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Bearing Sea, and glacier-capped 9,000 ft. active volcanoes. Pacific black brant, Taverner's Canada geese, emperor geese, ravens, bald eagles, sea otters, and red fox were observed in addition to the brown bears. At 7:00 p.m., the second Boeing 777 arrived and Refuge Manager Poetter shuttled all passengers back to the airport where a crew of seven imported TSA (Transportation Security Administration)screeners began the long security process. The plane departed at 9:30 PM with the pilot wagging his wings back and forth after lift-off in appreciation for the extraordinary efforts by the people of Cold Bay who turned an averted disaster into a pleasant diversion. Passengers were heard to say they wanted to return for future visits when they could stay longer. This event put Cold Bay, AK into USA Today!

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov



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