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Residents say dangerous medevac shows King Cove’s need for a road

By Heather Hintze 6:43 PM February 18, 2014

The small community continues to fight for a "life-saving road" to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay.

ANCHORAGE – A King Cove woman remains in critical condition after being medevaced out of the small Aleutian town on Friday.

Residents said the situation highlights their need for a life-saving road to Cold Bay, one Interior Secretary Sally Jewell denied in December.

King Cove Mayor Henry Mack was in Anchorage on Tuesday to visit his sister-in-law Irene Newman, the woman the U.S. Coast Guard rushed to a hospital on Friday.

Video of the rescue shows just how bad the weather was. With his smartphone, Vincent Perino captured the Coast Guard’s decent into King Cove. The helicopter is only visible for a few seconds before it disappears in the heavy snow and high winds.

The Coast Guard is the last resort for the community. On Friday, Mack said, the weather was so bad even the Coast Guard almost didn’t make it.

He’s said he’s frustrated with Jewell’s decision to protect birds in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge instead of letting the community build a life-saving road.

Doctors were still performing tests to see if his sister-in-law might have been in heart failure by the time she got to Anchorage, he said.

“Every hour on the ground and not being at a hospital, it doesn’t do your heart any good,” Mack said. “We’re hoping it’s not serious heart problems. We could have been at the airport to life flight a lot earlier if we have a road over to Cold Bay.”

Jewell visited King Cove last year and heard residents’ stories of medical emergencies. One elder was medevaced out in a crab pot; a pregnant woman miscarried her baby before she was able to make it to an Anchorage hospital.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski accompanied Jewell on that trip. She said she continues to fight for King Cove residents after Jewell denied the road.

Murkowski has sent three letters to Jewell since the December decision. In her most recent letter she said, “The stress felt by the residents of King Cove, for the safety of their families, is unforgiveable. While plenty of our smallest communities face transportation challenges, none are as close to an all-weather runway and access to hospital care as King Cove. To be left in harms way, not because of geography, but because of the callous decision of Washington bureaucrats is unacceptable.”

Mack said he still can’t believe Jewell met with the community face-to-face and still said no to a road.

“We spent hours, many meetings with the Wildlife Service, Sally Jewell,” Mack said. “They heard our stories, but apparently they never listened because of a decision that they made over a few birds over human life. So it’s very disheartening.”

KTVA called Jewell’s office Tuesday afternoon but was unable to reach her for a comment.

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