Vandal prevents landing of medical flight at Alaska airport

September 21, 2018

KASIGLUK, Alaska (AP) — An emergency medical flight attempting to land at an Alaska village had to turn back because lights on the runway had been vandalized.

Someone broke 43 runway lights at the airport in Kasigluk, a village of 630 people about 26 miles (42 kilometers) northwest of Bethel, Alaska State Troopers said.

It was the latest incident in a recurring problem at rural airports, said Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy.

The department has been working with communities to stress the importance of keeping infrastructure intact, she said.

Lights at Kasigluk were known to be working Tuesday night. The lights are activated when an aircraft approaches, McCarthy said.

On Wednesday, someone in the village needed a flight out. At around midnight, a medical flight approached to pick up the patient but was unable to land because lights could not be activated.

McCarthy on Friday did not know if the patient had been flown out during daylight hours.

Damage to the lights is estimated at $1,600. Troopers are asking witnesses with information to contact them.

The department has a person contracted for maintenance at the airport but duties do not include providing security. Like many rural Alaska airports, Kasigluk has no fence surrounding the runway.

The Transportation Department has worked on an education program with communities to protect airports, keep people off active runways and make the point that if airplanes cannot land, it’s detrimental to individuals and the entire community, McCarthy said. The department produced a coloring book to make the point visually to children.

“The message is, ‘Your airport is part of your safety and security, your well-being,’” McCarthy said.

Inclement weather in Bethel prevented department employees from reaching Kasigluk to make repairs and they hope to reach the village Monday, McCarthy said.

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