A WONDERFUL LIFE, INDEED

Nancy Schave, relaxing at home with her dog Misty, tells how she was saved by the people she trained after suffering a heart attack during the showing of the Yuletide movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" last month. See the remarkable story behind this Skagway Miracle in features below . Andrew Cremata

Skagway couple escaped tsunami

E-mail tells story of fateful bus ride along South India coast as waves hit

By JEFF BRADY
Two Skagway summer workers caught the right bus at the right time along the southern coast of India on Dec. 26 – the day a massive earthquake rocked Indonesia and sent tsunami waves along the rim of the Indian Ocean, killing more than 150,000 people in 11 Asian and African countries.
Sam Palmersten and Tamar Harrison were in Tamu Nadu, one of the hardest hit regions, in the small coastal town of Mammalapuram. They had been in South India for about a week, having flown there from Thailand to meet up with S. “Kris” Krishna, another Skagway friend.
Krishna had flown from his birthplace of Chennai on Dec. 24 to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and missed the tsunami, but Palmersten and Harrison had stuck around the scenic coast a couple more days.
In an e-mail sent to co-workers at Sgt. Preston’s Lodge on Dec. 29, they described what happened:
“Halli hello all of our dear friends, and thank you for your concern and loving words. As the subject reads- YES! - we are OK. If any of you don’t know, we are in South India in the worst hit region. The quake we did not ‘feel’ though we may have been woken that morning by slight tremors. Anyways, we missed a tidal tsunami by about 15 minutes! We checked out of our hotel, had an amazing S. Indian breakfast, walked to the road away from the beach to flag a bus.
“While waiting, about 10 minutes, somebody came sprinting by screaming, ‘The water is coming! The sea is coming!’ Within a minute (literally) a bus stopped for us, we got on and told the passengers as best we could, because nobody knew – it all just happened.
“The bus ride was south, down the coast between Mammalapuram and Pondicherry... progressively more and more people began filling the sides of the roads, escaping the floods and leaving their washed out villages. Panic, people running, screaming, flagging the non-stopping bus... people hitting themselves sat on the roadside crying. The bus did not stop.
“Nobody (including us) knew exactly what was going on,” they explained. “Thousands of people lined the road. Complete madness. At one point a crowd of people blocked the road and attacked the bus with massive sticks, and threw rocks, distraught from the loss of their homes and loved ones... a real shock!”
Palmersten and Harrison stressed later that India is a lovely place and it is not a regular thing to get attacked by a mob trying to stop a bus.
“Eventually (after having to go inland due to floods) we arrived in Pondicherry, to a crowd of people at the seaside laughing at the ocean as huge waves crashed over the sea wall, they continued. “The military came and cleared the crowd. A truth to the contrasts of India- less than 100 km away thousands were dead and missing.”
The couple then said they had left the southern coast but couldn’t escape the news.
“It feels as far away from us now as you,” they wrote. “Everything is OK. We really have some worries about friends we have met in Thailand, and India, tourists and locals alike.
“So, to you all out there, worry not... for us at least. There is serious destruction, loss of life, land, home, and soooo much sadness and grief in Asia at the moment. We are moving on to the West Coast and North. We missed disaster by 15 simple minutes, there was no warning, is there ever?
“What else to say, we don’t know. Love you. Love yourself and friends and neighbors.”
On Jan. 1 they had moved to the west coast village of Varkala, in the
Kerala region, on a cliff above the ocean. There, they learned more about the catastrophe which “has overshadowed all thoughts and celebrations.”
They continued about the country and the relief effort, which they had joined in a small way, “(We are) still a bit in shock, but wanting to tell you all what a great place it is here and that people are dealing with the situation as best they (we) can... we have donated clothes... and try to keep heads up as most Indians do - in regards to the subject most people look up, palms upwards and mutter something about God(s) and then will smile and give thanks and praise for life.
“Everyone we have met and shared time with along the way are fine, so relief there for us... but keep prayers coming for the masses that have been affected and continue to suffer.”

Sam worked at Sgt. Preston’s and Sabrosa during the summers of 2003 and 2004 and he is expected back in April. He is from Minnesota and his wife Tamar is from England. Tamar worked at Tent City and the Fish Co. in 2003 and at the Red Onion in 2004 and expects to return to the Red Onion this year. Krishna was born in southern India, but has lived in Canada and the U. S. about 30 years. Special thanks to Mavis Irene Henricksen of Sgt. Preston’s who forwarded the e-mails and helped put the newspaper in touch with them.

HOW TO HELP – A special Community Prayer Service for the victims of the tsunami disaster was held at the Assembly of God church on Sunday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. It was organized by the churches of Skagway and a special offering collected more than $500 for the Red Cross tsunami relief effort. If you would still like to make a donation, cans are also around town, and a fund has also been set up at the Wells Fargo bank, which is matching employee contributions nationwide. To date, more than $700,000 has been collected from Alaskans for the relief effort.ess under the current form of government. – JB

DOING THEIR PART


Skagway exchange student Khaled Jezini of Brazil grew a mohawk for “Sprit Week” and then made a pact with the cheerleaders to have it shaved off at the conclusion of one of the games to raise money for the tsunami relief effort. Winning bidder Gary Trozzo mans the clippers as cheerleaders Michelle Harris, Crystal Ketterman and Hillery Lesh enjoy the show. Jeff Brady

State threatens to tie up fast ferry on Jan. 25
Labor impasse declared with unions; sailings cancelled Jan. 23-24 to move ship to Ketchikan

Juneau Empire/Skagway News
An impasse in labor negotiations between ferry system workers and the state may take the Fairweather out of service unless an agreement is reached soon, according to state officials.The Alaska Department of Transportation plans to dock the fast ferry indefinitely starting Jan. 25 unless it can come to an agreement with three unions over worker contracts, officials announced last week.
On Jan. 3 the state declared that negotiations with unions over contracts for employees on the fast ferry had reached impasse, prompting it to petition the Alaska Labor Relations Agency for mediation.
“If the state is unable to move to the reduced schedule, it is our intention to cease operation of the Fairweather on Jan. 25, 2005,” DOT Commissioner Mike Barton said in a written statement. “Tying up the vessel will result in the layoff of virtually the entire specially trained crew, a result we would sincerely hope to avoid.”
But there was apparently no progress made in the last week. A travel advisory was put up on the ferry system’s website Jan. 10, and no Fairweather reservations are being taken after the 25th.
The ferry’s three unions - the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, the Inland Boatmens’ Union, and the Masters, Mates and Pilots – already have requested mediation, according to Ben Goldrich, business manager for the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.
Goldrich and MEBA’s legal counsel said the threat to cut ferry service is a strong-arm tactic meant to bully the unions.
“The governor ought to take a hard look at this bogus policy by press release and find a real labor-relations person to get a supplemental agreement that will work for the public, will work for the state and will work for the employees of the Alaska Marine Highway System. Period,” said Joe Geldhof, legal counsel for MEBA. Geldhof said it was the first time the unions had heard about the proposal to tie up the ship.
The ferry unions and Alaska Department of Administration have been operating under temporary worker contracts since last year and already have gone to mediation once.
The Transportation Department said it has determined it is not economical to continue operating the Fairweather under the expired contract. The state plans to reduce operations from six to four days a week during the winter, a plan that would require laying off the vessel’s second 15-member crew.
John Torgerson, a contract negotiator for the state, said the Fairweather is operating at approximately a $3.5 million deficit under the temporary contracts, a gap that could be cut to about $800,000 a year.
The agreement under which the vessel has operated for eight months was written to cover “intense training and initial operations” when the vessel first arrived in Alaska waters last year, said Art Chance, the state’s director of labor relations, in a letter to the Alaska Labor Relations Board.
“The ferry system will already have to go to the Legislature for supplemental funding for this year – the unions’ demands would exacerbate that even more,” Torgerson said in a written statement. If the ship is tied up, travelers will have to rely on the more infrequent mainline ferries.

UPDATE - The state announced on Jan. 14 that it had reached agreement with one of the three unions, but then on Jan. 19 subsequently cancelled the ship's Jan. 23 and 24 sailings to Haines-Skagway and Sitka so it can get the ship to drydock in Ketchikan for layup, thus allowing the crew to be back in Juneau on the deadline date of Jan. 25. For updated information on the situation and how it may affect travel plans, go to the AMHS website ,www.FerryAlaska.com.

‘Totally unacceptable’
Skagway pleads for resolution to keep Fairweather sailing

The City of Skagway is voicing frustration with the impasse between the state and the unions operating the fast ferry and will take the matter before the Southeast Conference of Mayors next week.
At last week’s Skagway City Council meeting, member Mike Catsi urged the city to write a letter, without taking sides, about the potential impacts of the ferry going off-line again. The ferry had just returned to service Jan. 5 after repairs were made to a cowling that was damaged during a Lynn Canal wind storm last month. Without the Fairweather, Skagway was down to two mainline ferries a week, and many holiday travel plans had to be altered.
“All four entities need to understand that if the Fairweather goes off line, all of us suffer,” Catsi said.
Mayor Tim Bourcy was not at the Council meeting, but said this week that he will take the city’s concerns to Juneau next week with the message that such an impasse will affect not just Skagway, but transportation throughout the system.
“I’m trying to set up a presentation with DOT and the unions for them to explain to the SE Conference of Mayors exactly what is going on,” Bourcy said this week.
He said the communities have been left out of ferry transportation decisions for too long. “The impasse is totally unacceptable.”

WP&YR, Carcross, YTG join forces to promote territorial tourism

By STEPHANIE WADDELL, Whitehorse Star
A memorandum of understanding among the White Pass and Yukon Route railway, the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and the territorial government will see White Pass extend rail service from Bennett, B.C. to Carcross for charters.
The Destination Yukon agreement was signed last Thursday morning at the White Pass depot in Whitehorse. It will see the three parties work together on tourism projects for Carcross.
“Today is a major milestone,” Michael Brandt, vice-president of marketing and planning for White Pass, told a news conference marking the signing.
The three parties will begin working on pilot projects to prepare for the charters. They’ll also host a follow-up to the Carcross Summit held last year. That event saw various companies and interest groups came together to discuss economic development in the community.
The agreement, Premier Dennis Fentie said, speaks to the territory’s approach in engaging the corporate community, first nations and others in enhancing economic development.
The initiative will enhance tourism and economic opportunities in Carcross, he said.
“This is another example of why we want economic partnerships, because they are mechanisms that allow us to develop mutual benefits for all people,” Fentie said.
New business opportunities in the area will be substantial, said Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon.
“The timing couldn’t be better, actually, to work with our partners and make Carcross a tourism destination,” he said, noting the community is a major gateway to Alaska.
Kenyon said the three parties want to see local jobs, product development and a sustainable economy that respects the heritage and quality of life for Carcross residents.
Mark Wedge, chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, recalled White Pass’ history in Carcross when it was a year-round service. He also recalled Skookum Jim’s involvement when the route was first built more than 100 years ago.
The first nation and its elders’ council have been looking at how an economic base with year-round employment can be created.
Working with business is important in creating that economy.
“Governments are not the only employers, and we have to expand into private enterprise,” Wedge said. “So that’s why it’s important to have participants from the community to look at this, is that we need to create an economy on a large area.
“And it does take governments’ responsibility – the first nations government, Yukon government, federal government responsibility to work with private enterprise to work at how do we create these things?”
The agreement is just the beginning, as it provides some employment, he said.
“This will create a lot of work,” Brandt said.
This year, White Pass’ maintenance crew, made up of 30 workers, including an additional 15 this year, will prepare the 48 kilometres of track between Bennett and Carcross for the 2005 service.
The charter service this year is being done with a goal of establishing scheduled service for 2006.
“This puts the Yukon back into White Pass and Yukon Route,” Brandt said.
He suggested the first land claims agreement of its kind was between White Pass and the Carcross-Tagish First Nation.
“And that culture of commitment and partnership is very much alive in (White Pass president) Gary Danielson and it’s echoed by the chief,” Brandt said.
“And this partnership has been integral to getting to this point because we’ve got to champion our history that’s been largely lost, and we’ve got to position Carcross as a made-in-Yukon solution, preserving the authenticity of our history and maintaining the integrity of the culture.”
While there’s a lot of work to do in that, with a common vision and commitment, it’s possible, he commented.
One major charter has been booked for the summer for a round trip from Carcross to Bennett with the Ride Yukon motorcycle tour in June.
Engine 69, built for White Pass in 1907, will be used this year with its inaugural charter being the Ride Yukon event.
Brandt said there’s a lot of interest in Canadian products from bus tour operators and cruise lines.
“That’s what’s so important about this MOU and this initiative; it sends the signal to industry about what will happen in Carcross,” Brandt told reporters.
“Otherwise, we have to wait until the infrastructure’s there and you got this continuous chicken-and-egg thing happening.”
Through the partnership, both ends of the project – the marketplace and the infrastructure – will work toward the middle, where both are in place, he said.
“So we think this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Brandt said.
The White Pass has outgrown the Red Line train it currently uses for its Skagway-to-Bennett route, he noted, which is why the company is selling the car to the Yukon government. The government announced its purchase of the car in the legislature last year.
Kenyon said the deal will likely be completed this week. Part of that will see it leased back to White Pass for its use on some of the projects for the next two years, he said.
“Beyond that, we’ll see what happens,” Kenyon said.
One of the possibilities may be to leave the car in place if there are good programs where it can be used, or to use it for waterfront development in Carcross or possibly Whitehorse.
“You can expect to see steam engines and diesel engines pulling in, many coaches, into Carcross,” Brandt said.
In 2000, the golden spike ceremony held in Carcross was supposed to be the stepping-off point for scheduled service into Carcross, but there wasn’t the market for it, he explained.
The marketplace has since grown, with the capacity of Skagway reached while the demand for Canadian products, scenery and more land programs has increased.
“So the timing’s right for this,” he said.
The project will see White Pass spend $750,000 on maintenance work and $200,000 in marketing.
This summer, a number of pilot projects will be underway, though details on those initiatives are still being worked on.
“So you take a Ride Yukon and we’ve got all these motorcyclists coming up and it’s all about the Yukon and it’s all about the ride and it’s all about the scenery and the history,” Brandt said.
“So when we bring them to Carcross, what all will we do, how will we showcase our first nations culture for them – it’s been one of our objectives; that’s the type of tourism product people want. But what is it, who’s going to do it, how will we price it – those are the things that we have to work on.”
As for how many tourists the project will bring into Carcross, Kenyon said each charter will likely bring in between 600 and 800 people.
“If the product looks good, we could see 10,000 or 20,000 people coming into Carcross,” he said. “It might not be that high, it might be more; we don’t know.”
Brandt said scheduled service in 2006 could bring in 20,000 people. White Pass will make the initial charters as large as it can, but it has to be able to host, feed and entertain the tourists.
Tour companies want to know that the product is there, Kenyon stressed.
With a lot of films being made in Carcross over the last couple of years, Wedge said services like catering and snowmobile operations have also been developing. Tours have been coming to the community with things like button-blanket making being made available to tourists.
This has brought about discussion in the first nation’s elders’ council on how to honour the first nation culture.
“As we begin to grow and develop, there’s things like walking tours,” he said. “And so what we need to begin to do is really to start honing, to start saying, how do we start building these things?”
Things like dog mushing and northern lights viewing are occurring already, Wedge said.
“It didn’t start today,” he said.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

TAKING THE THRONE – This year's Skagway School Homecoming Procession had a different twist during the annual Don Hather Tourney. Jeff Brady

OTHER ONLINE STORIES THIS ISSUE:

• SKAGWAY MIRACLE: Local EMT Nancy Schave is saved by the students she trained in CPR

• SPORTS ROUNDUP: Skagway team in Fulda Challenge; Mushers in top 10 at Copper Basin300; SHS girls roll, boys take tumbles in hoop season openers

• OBITUARIES: Betty Herpst, Chuck Rapuzzi, Bernice Meroney

To read all the stories in the News, including complete city and school digests, letters and commentary, police and court reports, and view our many advertisers for Skagway products and services, you must subscribe to the real thing. Out of town subscriptions cost $35 per year for second class mail, $45 for first class mail. Send a check to Skagway News, Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840 or call us at 907-983-2354 with a credit card number.