Pickup truck used as air traffic control tower at Anchorage airport
A work truck at the Anchorage airport doubled as a mini air traffic control tower when the 7.0 earthquake hit last Friday. Air traffic controllers evacuated the control tower after the quake hit and concerns mounted about the stability of the tower.
Just moments after the earthquake hit, you can hear air traffic controllers telling a FedEx plane to go around the runway. Airport officials say the jet was about 300 to 400 feet in the air, about to land, when flight controllers told the pilot not to touch down.
John Stocker, airport operations duty manager, was there at the time. He said the airport had no idea what kind of damage the runways might have sustained in the earthquake.
"For the same type of things that you saw for the on-ramps, you could have had surface that could have changed as much as a foot,” Stocker said. “Well, if you're landing an almost million pound airplane you could easily damage the gear; do all sorts of different things. It's much safer at that point to be in air."
Airport officials say before the entire tower was evacuated, controllers told pilots they would be landing without any communication from the tower; pilots would be talking only to each other, and planes on the ground, so everyone knew their location.
He says three air traffic controllers who left the tower drove a pickup across the runways and parked near the side of one of them so they could see planes in every direction. Other controllers who were still in the tower spaced out the planes in the air, until pilots could receive further instructions.
Approximately eight planes were in the vicinity of the airport, including two Alaska Airlines passenger planes. Stocker says the first two or three planes landed safely on their own.
Then the three controllers in the truck, a Ford F-150, started communicating with pilots who were holding over Anchorage.
"You had a standard air to ground radio and you had the other radios we operate normally that they didn't use at all," Stocker said, referring to the equipment the controllers in the pickup were using.
Stocker says he, and a group of many other airport staffers, checked landing lights, runways and taxiways and deemed the areas safe for air traffic.
The controllers in the truck then guided remaining planes in for safe landings. Stocker says they operated like that for about an hour and fifteen minutes, directing flights inbound and outbound.
"You know these guys train for an awful lot of things and they're really pretty sharp. They really are good," Stocker said.
Stocker says only about 15 minutes went by from the time of the quake, to the runways being cleared to the first plane landing safely.
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