Terrorist attacks' ripple felt here

Bonanza bartender Tom Lux talks to a concerned visitor as she watches television coverage of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. landmarks. Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas

Skagway airport closed down; cruise ships cancel, security tight

BY DIMITRA LAVRAKAS and JEFF BRADY

After highjacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania, Skagway quickly felt the aftershock of the events of Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001.
The nation’s airports and commuter airlines were closed down immediately, as was Skagway’s. It took a passport or a birth certificate to cross the border into Canada or the United States, and there was heightened security on the docks where four cruise ships were in port.
It was a slow morning at the U.S. border, said Linda Robinson, port director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
“If they’re doing tours, they must all be in town,” she said. “There’s hardly anyone coming across the border. It’s just people who were on the road before they heard the news.”
Two cruise ships that were due in port on Sunday have cancelled their sailings to Skagway, said Buckwheat Donahue, tourism director. The Carnival Spirit and the Westerdam were due to leave Vancouver, B.C. on Wednesday, but now will operate on a reduced schedule.
“There are no planes, so there will be no people,” said White Pass Vice President Gary Danielson.
The cruise lines also tightened up on security, requiring people embarking or disembarking ships to have their passes.
Mike O’Daniel, vice president of Skagway Air Service, said he had no idea when the airport would be reopened.
“We don’t have a clue,” he said. “I’ve called the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and they have called us several times just to let us know they haven’t forgotten about us.
“I think until they figure out where the risk factor is, I don’t think they’ll give anything up.”
Two local families had family members who were flying jets at the time, one for American and the other for Northwest, but both were on the ground at the time of the attack, O’Daniel said.
TEMSCO Helicopters also shut down after there was miscommunication with the Federal Aviation Administration, which had given them the go-ahead to ferry dog camp staff off the Juneau Icefield.
“We were trying to de-mobe the dog camp, and called the FAA and they said, ‘yeah get everybody off the mountain,” said Dave Herbig, Skagway base manager for TEMSCO. “They didn’t know at that time they were escorting those planes to Whitehorse, and they must have seen us on their radar. They called the FAA and said to get us out of the sky.”
Herbig said it didn’t look as if they would fly again by Thursday, maybe Friday. On Wednesday, only planes grounded on Tuesday could continue to their destinations, with passengers allowed to disembark only.
Joette Storm, of the FAA’s community relations office in Anchorage, said the FAA was working on a special measure for Alaska to allow, say, hunters to be evacuated. Right now (Wednesday afternoon), the only planes allowed in the skies over the state are medevacs, she said.
The Bonanza Bar & Grill opened two hours early on Tuesday so people could go in and watch the news on the big television screen, but it closed shortly after bar co-manager Tom Lux received word that it would be needed for Holland America passengers who would not be able to make their plane connections. It did open for the public by lunchtime.
“We (Westmark) were scheduled to close tomorrow (Sept. 12), but we’re getting all our rooms ready in case we have to handle tour groups that can’t make it up north,” said Jim Sager, hotel general manager. Westmark is owned by Holland America Line.
The docks were closed to all but essential personnel, but most land tours, including the WP&YR, continued to operate normally.
The Skagway City School Board canceled a special meeting. Flags were lowered to half mast all over town.
The Juneau Post Office, the Federal Building, and all Forest Service visitor centers in Kenai, Ketchikan and Juneau were closed.
Skagway’s Post Office remained open, but the National Park Service sent all non-essential workers home on Tuesday, and opened its visitor facilities just for people to use the rest rooms. The Klondike Park visitor center was back at full staff on Wednesday.
A prayer service was held on Tuesday night at the Presbyterian Church. At least 40 people were in attendance said Pastor Karen Parsons.
“It was an interesting mix from the community as well as members of the church,” she said.
While the town was filled with 7,000-plus people, the mood was somber. People looked as if they were trying to have a good time, but their eyes revealed their realization that the world as we know it will never be the same.

A day never to be forgotten

Low-on-fuel 747 jet diverted to Whitehorse

By CHUCK TOBIN and STEPHANIE WADDELL
The Whitehorse Star
WHITEHORSE – Tuesday morning’s eerie idleness at the Whitehorse International Airport was broken only by the regular arrival of the weekly flight from Frankfurt, Germany at about 10:30 a.m. Yukon Time.
But fewer than 90 minutes later, Whitehorse was sent into a state of emergency with the news that two Boeing 747s were inbound, one of which was low on fuel and perhaps involved in a hijacking situation.
Emergency crews were dispatched to the airport, and the Alaska Highway was closed from Robert Service Way to Two Mile Hill.
The RCMP put out a general alert suggesting downtown businesses evacuate their stores and shops. Police personnel went to the larger downtown stores and federal and territorial buildings to recommend immediate evacuation, RCMP Cpl. Al Lucier explained.
Lucier said it was also recommended by police that local schools be evacuated, though the downtown remained of primary concern because of its proximity to the airport.
“The fear was the plane would not make a successful landing, and that it would end up in the downtown area.”
As it was put by one Whitehorse woman who works in the downtown: “I can’t believe we are right in the middle of this thing.”
As the first of the two Korean jetliners approached Whitehorse, downtown residents and pedestrians were anxiously watching, particularly with news that one of the aircraft may have been hijacked, and was under escort by Canadian and U.S. fighter planes.
From rooftops and other strategic lookouts, they watched. At the highpoint along the Long Lake Road, several vehicles arrived shortly before the aircraft to witness the approach and landing of the first 747, a cargo aircraft.
It was reported through police updates broadcast on local radio airwaves that one of the large jumbo jets was low on fuel.
Both landed without incident, though the Yukon’s emergency response team had placed the second jet – which was escorted into the airport by fighter jets – under guard. It was still under guard at 2 p.m. YT.
Meanwhile, traffic in Whitehorse came to a slow crawl along Second Avenue late in the morning as parents were advised to pick up their children after being removed from schools across the city.
Some walked with their children along the street past flags which flew at half-mast.
The chaos erupted as radio reports told listeners that an aircraft on its way into Whitehorse was being treated as if it had been hijacked.
As school buses made their way around the city to pick children up from the schools, Whitehorse Transit buses were also used to pick up students. This canceled the transit system. The buses were still being used by the territory’s Emergency Measures Organization in mid-afternoon.
A number of high school students stood in groups outside F.H. Collins Secondary School this morning as others walked along Lewes Boulevard by the school.
While students made their way home or to their schools’ alternate designated spots, staff at the federal Elijah Smith Building, territorial legislature building and city hall were evacuated.
Bill Newell, the city manager, estimated that city staff were evacuated for about half an hour beginning at 11:15.
All city employees were sent home.
“A lot have gone home for the day,” he said.
As government buildings closed, so did numerous retail outlets across the city.
Air North president Joe Sparling said with the North American-wide cancellation of all flights – float planes included – that were not already airborne at the time of the attack – resulted in the cancellation of his regular scheduled flight to Dawson City, Old Crow and Fairbanks.
It also grounded the fuel cargo plane the company is using to transport fuel from Fort McPherson to Old Crow.
While Transport Canada originally issued a no-fly order in effect until 1 p.m. Tuesday, the order was subsequently changed to indefinite.
Nathalie Dugas of the local office for Canada Customs and Revenue Agency said this morning while border crossings into Canada were to remain open, customs official have been instructed to increase scrutiny of people entering Canada.
Where officers can sometimes be satisfied simply by questioning individuals as they pass through the border stations, today, they will begin to request documentation to further verify the identity of individuals.
“The only impact is there could be a little bit of a delay going through the border because we have to be more cautious,” Dugas said. “We want to make sure that people who are coming are not a risk to Canada, so we are going to be questioning even more than usual....
“We are definitely going to be asking for some identification documents like a social insurance number, driver’s license or passport, and that is going to be routine today.”
For more information, check out the Star's site: www.whitehorsestar.com

WEBMASTER'S NOTE: We will update this page as events allow. The airport opened on Thursday as the Sept. 14 issue went to press, and mail was beginning to flow normally on Friday. Prayer and candlelight vigils were held in Skagway on Friday, with about 100 people attending each event. As of Saturday, Celebrity Cruises Infinity and Mercury had cancelled their Monday calls to Skagway, but the Rhapsody of the Seas was still due in, according to the Skagway CVB. The high school cross-country meet went ahead as scheduled.