Willow snowfall slows Iditarod checkpoint deliveries
Iditarod Air Force volunteers usually rally at the Willow Airport for a Saturday blitz to deliver supplies to checkpoints along the trail.
Weather hampered that effort this year.
“It started snowing Saturday and really didn’t stop until yesterday,” said Russ Dunlap, the chief pilot for the Iditarod Air Force. “There was 18 inches of snow out here and we can’t operate in that safely with our airplanes.”
The Alaska Department of Transportation had crews out Tuesday night with work resuming at 5 a.m. on Wednesday. It took two trucks, a plow and a blower several hours to clear the 22-acre runway and taxiway.
Dunlap said it was a skeleton crew on Wednesday with just a handful of pilots heading out for supply runs.
“We don’t fly at night and we’re not supposed to fly in the clouds. So when it gets snowy and visibility goes down that restricts what we can do,” he explained.
Volunteers took turns unloading musher food bags from the back of a truck, digging out straw bales and stuffing everything in the plane cabins.
“We have three planes in the air and two more to load. We’ve got to get our mojo going,” laughed Teri Paton, who's been an Iditarod volunteer for 20 years.
She says it’s exciting to be a part of the race that is unique to Alaska. Paton is coordinating the distribution effort and tracks what the pilots are carrying and where they’re headed.
“I’m capturing their departure time so we can flight-follow. We know how long it takes to get to certain checkpoints. Give them 15 minutes on the ground, then coming back,” Paton explained.
That safety measure ensures everyone is accounted for, which is especially important with another round of snow on the way.
“The dog race loves snow but a massive amount of snow with airplanes isn’t a great thing,” chief pilot Dunlap said.
Volunteers made as many trips as they could while the runway was still clear for takeoff. They expect to get the rest of the goods transported over the weekend.
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