Discovering Alaska Volume 2: ERH 800/801 – ANC to VDZ and Back

Welcome to the second part of our little tour through Alaska. Today we are flying from Anchorage to Valdez and back, again a nice short hop. Valdez is a very important city for Alaska – oil from the Trans-Alaskan pipeline is loaded onto oil Tankers in the port of Valdez. It is also called the Switzerland of Alaska because of all the glaciers in the area. Again we will be flying with Era Alaska on their Beechcraft 1900D. Our F/O today will be Ariel Tweto, known from the TV show Flying Wild Alaska. She knows the territory very well and we will be very glad that she is on the flight deck with us, because the weather is as worse as it gets.

Here’s the details. ETD was 07:25 am.
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The routing will take us on an eastbound heading towards Johnstone VOR. Before we reach this VOR, we will turn North to approach Port Valdez. The only runway to land on is 06. Shortly after the threshold, high mountains block the flightpath, so we better not make any mistakes here! We will be approching according to the only procedure available, the DME approach for 06. This will take us through the fjord, with the mountains very close to our left.
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Now let’s get started. It’s still dark outside as we enter N972EA. It’s changing between rain and snow the whole time and the visibility is only 4 nm. In this weather I would actually prefer to fly the bird parked a little behind our B1900.
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The cockpit is still cold and dark. Ariel helps us to set everything up and as a true gentleman I volunteer to do the walk around in this terrible weather.
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Everything looking good from the outside. We’re set to go, just load up those PAX and off we go.
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On our way to runway 07R. This is the kind of weather where you just want to stay in bed all day.
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Close to the threshold this Atlas Air 747-200F is coming in on Short Final. We didn’t see her until a few seconds ago because it’s really foggy and we have low vis.
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David vs Goliath.
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Position and hold on 07R. This flight will be nothing for Sissies!
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We’re climbing and the gear is up. Mother nature already shows her power and throws everything she has at us: Rain, snow, fog and wind.
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A last view onto Anchorage. We won’t be gone for too long though.
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Moments before we enter the thick and low hanging clouds we can see Lake Hood with the world’s biggest seaplane base to our left.
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In the clouds. The night lighting of the B1900 cockpit looks like it was designed by Martians.
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If you don’t know where you are in this weather around here, you are destined to crash. Mountains everywhere and (not only) under this conditions I’m happy to have Ariel as a local guide with me.
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I can’t stop being impressed by the landscape in Alaska.
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It seems we will be flying above the clouds for now. FL is 13,000 feet.
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The passengers enjoy stunning views as well.
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This compensates for getting up early and walking through the rain.
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We fought the weather and are still on our way to Valdez.
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Slowly the sun is rising. Such a romantic mood, that’s what Ariel thought as well…
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The weather in Valdez is not very good either. We are already on final after an uneventful descend. The visibility is not very good, clouds everywhere. This is a challenging approach with no ILS/LOC and the mountains around us.
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Innsbruck? No, Alaska! No room for errors here.
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We are closing in. The visibility is getting worse every minute. Let’s bring us down to the ground before we can’t see anything anymore.
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On the ramp in Valdez. This company Dash 8 landed shortly after us. There’s more going on here than in Homer the other day.
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It will be a little under 30 minutes before we are scheduled to depart back to Anchorage. Visibility is still decreasing every minute.
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Here’s the details for the return leg.
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The routing will be similar to the first leg. This time we will fly towards the waypoint “NAKED” and then turn towards Anchorage.
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Ariel insured as that she knows what she’s doing and we could take off. I trusted her and we started to get going to runway 24. You can’t take off on 06, unless you want your flight to end seconds after take off in a big fireball in the mountains.
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Jeez, I hope you know what you’re doing girl! We are following the only SID for Valdez. It has the funny name “NAKED3” and will hopefully lead us out of this valley.
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Thank god, we survived! Finally we can see something again after climbing through clouds for the past 10 minutes. On FL120 the world looks nice and peaceful.
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Nonetheless it is one hell of a turbulent ride. Again and again we encounter clouds and they really like to shake our little plane around.
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ATC is guiding us through the mountains for our approach to runway 14 in Anchorage. This offers us some great views.
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We won’t descend until we leave those peaks behind.
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Approaching 14 the terrain is less harmful. But the visibility is terrible again. At least this time we have the comfort of a fully operational ILS.
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Runway in sight. Battling those winds on final, they are trying to push us away from the airport, into the cold Arctic Sea.
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Getting close. Can’t wait to drink a hot cup of coffee back on the ground. Some of the passengers might wanna spike theirs after this ride…
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Almost there. We’re on short final for 14.
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And we made it back to the Terminal. Thanks to Ariel we survived this thrilling ride and got back to Anchorage safely. Now it’s time for that coffee!
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Thanks for reading. The management of Era was not as happy about our take off in Valdez in such bad conditions as we were. We couldn’t let the girl take all the blame and so we took responsibilty. They wouldn’t let us fly on Era for some time though. Therefore our next flight will be on Alaska Airlines with B737. First leg will be to Fairbanks, then on to Deadhorse and back to Anchorage. Stay tuned!

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