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Tuesday, Mark Dial, an executive of Offshore Rig Movers International, will testify on what happened as the rig broke loose while under tow from Dutch Harbor.
On Monday, Coast Guard Commander Josh McTaggart questioned Norman Custard, the Shell emergency response executive who took charge and ordered the evacuation of the 18 crew members on the circular 266-foot platform.
Custard described days of attempts to regain control as the weather improved and then worsened again. Eventually, one tug, the “Alert,” was left connected to the rig, and it was not succeeding in diverting it enough to make it to safe harbor. Custard said they were reaching a decision “trigger point,” and he simply had to give the order to let the Kulluk go aground.
“That just further told me that we’re walking a very precarious line, as far as, we have a tug vessel that is pushing as hard as they can, and a propulsion plant to no avail, the Kulluk is dragging it in towards the beach,” Custard said. “We were now well within seven miles, getting closer to the three-mile range.”
“My concern was, like I said, it came down to the safety of those members that were on the eh on the Alert”
Some of Custard’s toughest questioning came from Susan Dwarnick, Offshore Safety head of the former MMS – the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. She wanted to know about the towing plan.
Custard, a seasoned former Coast Guard commander, had already testified that he had closely examined and signed off on the plan, but Dwarnick wanted to know if the rescue component of that plan really had taken into account the unusual size and shape of the rig being towed.
Dwarnick: At what point during the incident did you become aware, or, you know, the light bulb came on, that evacuation from the Kulluk, primarily due to the relatively unique shape of the Kulluk, was going to be…higher complexity? Than average? When did it dawn on you?
Custard: It became clear after eh, when the tow, when we first first lost eh the connection with the Kulluk, we started to work on, review the evacuation plan. Because there were still standard evacuation plans on the Kulluk. But as far as the complexities, as far as the motion and how serious this is going to be, it wasn’t until the following day, when the Kulluk lost its propulsion plant and it was getting set, and the plant was starting to get a little lively, as we are having discussion. Okay, can we lower the boats, what are the risks of lowering the lifeboats, doing an aviation evacuation, things like that. So that’s when it really, I became keenly aware of exactly how difficult this was going to be.”
But Custard also pointed out that the rig had been repeatedly towed with no problems. And that towing can always be a delicate process.
“I’d have to every tow is unique in and of itself on the hull design, based on my experience,” Custard said. “Is it gonna be a difficult tow?”
“I’m gonna say it’s, it’s gonna have its own challenges in and of itself, like all tows are gonna have their own unique challenges in and of themselves.”
Custard was questioned for four hours, and he’s still not finished.
Pavlof Volcano isn’t showing signs of slowing down. It erupted all through the weekend, though not at levels that disturb international air traffic. But as KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal reports, the volcano’s done enough to stop regional air service to Western Alaska.
Bryan Carricaburu oversees operations at PenAir. He says on Monday morning, the airline grounded flights to:
Carricaburu: “Dutch, King Salmon, Dillingham, and the Pribilofs.”
There’s also Sand Point, which hasn’t had air service since Thursday. Overall, PenAir has completely shut down its Alaska operations. A representative for Grant Aviation says cancellations are also possible for their service to King Salmon.
The problem is that the volcano’s ash cloud is being blown into the flight path between Anchorage and southwest Alaska. It’s not a threat to navigation, but as Carricaburu from PenAir says:
Carricaburu: “Well, it’s very damaging to the engines if you ingest ash.”
Planes won’t fly again until the low-pressure system over the region lifts, and the ash dissipates.
Down on the ground, the Aleutian fishing town of Sand Point has been getting the brunt of the ash fall for the past few days.
The wind shifted Sunday, giving Sand Point a break. But according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Pavlof hasn’t let up at all — it’s still shooting large jets of ash and steam.
So the only difference is that now, the more northern villages of Nelson Lagoon and Port Moller are in the line of fire instead.
Merle Brandell lives in Nelson Lagoon. He says ash is falling there, mixed in with rain.
Brandell: “I see it in the bottom of the window sill outside there, it’s black. It’s a black ash. And it’s real sticky.”
Brandell says most people in Nelson Lagoon are trying to stay inside to avoid contact. They’ve stocked up on food and fuel, along with water.
That last part has been a bit tricky. Brandell operates the village’s water treatment plant, and he says he’s stopped pumping fresh water into the storage tanks since the eruption started to protect the supply.
For now, Nelson Lagoon is getting by on its reserves.
Brandell: ”Hopefully, you know, within a week or two weeks or a month or whatever, we can top the tanks back off comfortably without putting any ash in our holding tanks.”
If they’re careful, Brandell says Nelson Lagoon should have enough water to last through another two months of volcanic eruptions. By that time, though, he says he hopes life will have gotten back to normal.
By Shannon Kuhn
Standing next to them in the grocery line, you might not suspect their powers. You see them at the school play, at the hardware store, and at the park. They are your friends, your co-workers, your sisters. They are our world’s ultimate superheroes. They are moms.
This year for Mother’s Day, I decided to feature three local supermoms: Lia Keller, Erin Kirkland, and Leah Boltz. Each are on a mission, from building Alaska’s first 100% inclusive playground to getting kids outdoors. These women are warm and genuine, and also bold, brave, and beautiful. Their love for being a mom shines, and is impossibly infectious. Not only are they raising their kids to be sweet and caring global citizens, they are building community and providing a much needed support system for parents throughout the state.
I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to work with these three moms. They are incredibly inspiring, not only to me personally, but to so many families across the state whose lives they are impacting. Although I spoke to them individually, they all had some words in common about raising kids in the Last Frontier. ”Let them play and get dirty and be kids…and make sure you get down in the dirt and dig for worms with them every chance you get!”
Lia Keller is the founder of Skedaddle, a year round outdoor playgroup. An Alaskan kid herself, she grew up playing in the same parks that her kids now love. A few years ago, she tried to find a playgroup for her boys that was outside. Turned off by the exclusive feeling of playgroups that had an application process or membership dues, and also were focused on indoor play, she decided to start her own. Skedaddle is now a year-long outdoor playgroup that meets every Tuesday at a different playground in Anchorage.
Although it was created for children, Lia has provided a therapeutic space for parents as well. With a masters in counseling psychology, she finds Skedaddle is just as important for parents as it is for kids. “We need to get outside too, and talk about stuff other than cheerios and cartoons” she told me with a grin. “But more seriously, it is important for moms and dads to have a place where they can be social. Especially for first time moms, it can help reduce postpartum depression after giving birth.”
What is your favorite part of being a mom?
Watching my kids grow up and change. Every day they surprise me, every day is different.
What is your advice for other moms who want to get their kids outside?
Get good (rain and winter) gear for your kids! It is the most worthwhile investment you an make. Then you won’t be worried about them when you’re outside, and they won’t be wet or cold and complain. It might be hard at first to get the kids dressed properly for the winter (I remember how long it took for us to get just our boots on!), but I promise it will get easier.
Lia’s favorite neighborhood park to bring kids is Bob & Arlene Cross Park on hillside. Oh, and yep, her son is named after Kincaid Park!
Erin Kirkland is the founder and publisher of AKontheGO, a popular website dedicated to family travel in Alaska. She was inspired to start AKontheGO in 2005, after realizing that resources were essentially non-existent for families who wanted to have an active lifestyle, especially while traveling. “I had a tween and a toddler, and I really just wanted to find stuff for us all to do,” she told me. Erin is a mom to two boys: Owen is 8 and Matt is 19. AKontheGO has become the #1 resource for parents, who ask her questions from best spot for New Years Eve fireworks, to where to rent camper vans in Valdez.
AKontheGO also encourages fellow travel industry professionals to embrace family travel as an important emerging market in Alaska tourism. Those businesses who go the extra mile for their youngest guests are presented with an “AKontheGO Family Friendly Business” sticker and certificate, so other families can be assured of a clear commitment to kids, and the adults who love them. Be sure to be on the lookout for Erin’s AK on the Go travel family guide book coming out in 2014!
What is your favorite part of being a mom?
I love having the kids perspectives along with me. Traveling with kids is always more interesting, and is definitely one of my favorite parts of being a mom. When I travel, I see my son mature as this individual completely separate from me, which is so fun and so valuable.
What is your advice for other moms who want to travel with kids?
Just go. It can be scary, but plan a trip with your kids and just go…you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There are unique things about every place that your kids will lead you to! Also, don’t over-schedule.
Leah Boltz is the founder and visionary behind the Anchorage Park Foundation’s Parks for All initiative.
When asked what her inspiration for the project was, Leah said, “Number one was my daughter, Anna, who was about 3 at the time we started this venture (she is now 6.) She’s an Alaska girl through and through and LOVES adventure, the outdoors, playgrounds and making new friends. Like most Alaskans, our family lives here for Alaska’s unmatched recreational opportunities. Anna has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, walker or canes to get around (usually determined by how much snow is on the ground!). Two awesome moms I know–Christy Jordan and Rachel Leask–also have children with special needs who experience mobility challenges. When we met in 2009, all three of us were lamenting the fact that Anchorage had zero accessible parks or playgrounds for kids like ours. Not only that, but grandparents and parents or veteran soldiers in wheelchairs had no way to take their loved ones to play. Sort of seemed to defeat the purpose of living in the world’s largest playground to us. And our kids, like all kids, have the basic need to play–to teach them life skills, social interaction, physical activity and the joy of laughing with friends and family. So we decided to do something about it, so we could all play TOGETHER.”
Four years later, this dream is becoming a reality. The first truly inclusive playground in Alaska is being built this summer, because of moms like Leah and people that believe in the importance of play in our kids’ lives.
When asked what the first thing she is going to do when the playground is finally unveiled, Leah says, “Probably cry. I’m a total sap, and I know how excited Anna is to play with her cousins together at the playground. The first time I see them all together and laughing on the equipment, someone had better have a box of Kleenex handy! But really what I’m most looking forward to is being able to sit on a bench in the sun and take photos while my daughter plays on her own, without needing Mom to carry her from her wheelchair or help lift her onto the slide. She’ll be able to do it herself! Watch for lots of Instagram and Facebook posts that day!”
What is your favorite part of being a mom?
Anna was doing a school project last night and asked me this same question. There are so many things! My answer to her was “hugs!” But there are so many things–making a child laugh and smile is the greatest gift there is. I feel so much pride in my daughter–and I fully chalk that up to just being lucky enough to be the one chosen to be her mother. Anna, in so many ways, is a role model for her parents! She teaches us a lot about strength and what’s important and what’s not in life. She teaches me how to let go and be silly and appreciate life through a child’s eyes. She also teaches everyone around her what it really means to be a positive presence in the world and just how far that will get you in life.
What is your advice for other moms?
My advice for other moms is to love and appreciate your kids and the special gifts each one brings to the world. Nurture those gifts and always strive to be positive in your interactions with your kids. Help them become their best, not someone else’s best.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing moms out there. You are our superheroes!
War, deception and art come together in this astonishing true story of American G.I.s who tricked the enemy with rubber tanks, sound effects and carefully crafted illusions during WWII. This remarkable tale of a top-secret mission that was at once absurd, deadly and amazingly effective is told through the stories of the veterans, many of whom — like Bill Blass and Ellsworth Kelly — would go on to have illustrious careers in art, design and fashion.
- TV: Tuesday, 5/21 at 7:00pm
Of all the more senior men in my personal life, Skip Fuller is the one that I hold in the highest esteem. He was my mentor. He believed in me and never faltered in his support of me until the day he died. In fact he made a point of calling me “son” when I visited him for the last time on his deathbed in Mesquite, Nevada.
I impressed Skip early in our relationship when I, having bought the Alibi Club (which was basically an old-style Fourth Avenue bar in Spenard) from him and his partner, Jack Griffin, stated boldly that I was going to triple his business. He replied, “You may double it, but you’ll never triple it.” I quadrupled it in the first year.
I understood something that Skip did not. Although Fairbanks had the Malemute Saloon, Juneau had the Red Dog Saloon and even little Homer had the Salty Dawg Saloon, Anchorage had no bar with an authentic Alaskan theme. All the bars were either trying to mimic outside operations, or they were neighborhood bars, nightclubs or strip joints.
A couple of high school friends and I had successfully owned and operated the Bird House Bar, another of the funky Alaskan themed bars, on the Seward Highway from December of 1967 to December of 1968, our first business venture, which we had purchased from the estranged wife of the original owner, Cliff Brandt.
One of my partners, Johnnie Tegstrom, had leukemia, a present from Uncle Sam for having worked at the nuclear test site on Amchitka Island for a summer. Shamefully, the United States government denied culpability in this matter for decades, or until most of the living relatives of the afflicted had passed away. Johnnie spent most of his time in cancer treatment in New York during our year of ownership of the Bird House Bar. My other partner, Norman, whose father had loaned the three of us the money to purchase the place, was the managing partner and worked the bar during the week.
I was married to my first wife and selling life insurance for New York Life. Each week, on Friday afternoons, I would drive to Bird Creek and take over the bartending chores from Norm. Working the place by myself, forty miles out the Seward Highway, with no phone, until 5:00 am, I would stagger to the little shack we owned behind the bar and go to sleep. At noon the next day I would reopen the place and run it straight through until 5:00 am again, stumble back to the shed for the night and reopen again on Sunday at noon.
Norm was supposed to relieve me around 6:00 pm as I recall, but was frequently late, which was the cause of some aggravation because I then had to drive back to Anchorage and present myself bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in suit and tie for an 8:00 am Monday morning sales meeting at New York Life. I did this routine for a year.
In late 1968 it was apparent that Johnnie was not going to live much longer. Norm wanted to return to college to continue his education, so we put the Bird House up for sale and it sold immediately for twice what we had paid for it to an ex-school teacher, Dick Delak. Dick successfully operated the bar until December, 1993, when he was killed in a commuter airplane crash near Hibbing, Minnesota. I believe he was on his way to visit an uncle for Christmas.
After Dick’s untimely death, his wife, Susan, ran the bar until February 18th, 1996, when it burned to the ground in the early morning hours. Though the fire department blamed the blaze on faulty wiring, I have been told locals thought it was arson perpetrated by a Bird Creek resident. I bought back the Bird House Bar name and rights from Susan in 2002 and rebuilt the place as part of Chilkoot Charlie’s. She had dealt with a number of suitors for the name, but sold to me because she believed I would do it properly.
There was an open area at the rear of Chilkoot Charlie’s where we had horseshoe pits and held a free meal every Sunday afternoon for many years. Amazingly, the Bird House fit perfectly into that space. Believe it or not, the old place had an extant as-built survey, as well as a scale model made by some Bird Creek fan, and, of course, there were photos and videos available. The fact that I had worked the place every weekend for a year didn’t hurt either.
Having been everyone’s favorite little bar, I was determined to make sure that it was an exact replica, and it is, right down to the bumper stickers around the inside of the bar. The crew at Chilkoot Charlie’s, with the help of architect, Jeffery Wilson, built the place and when our crew got the bar installed they excitedly recruited me from my office nearby to take a look at it. When I noticed the bar angle was not right and needed more of a slant to it, Craig, my property manager, said, “We can’t do it, Mike. If we raise it on the outside end any more you won’t be able to see inside and if we lower it anymore on the inside we’d have to tear the floor out and start all over.” My immediate reply was, “Start tearing.”
To my great satisfaction, no one has ever criticized the reincarnation. It is a virtual time machine, though the only thing in it that was actually in the old Bird House on the highway is the stove, singularly unaffected by the blaze. Thus, the Bird House Bar had been the parent of Chilkoot Charlie’s and now Chilkoot Charlie’s is the parent of the Bird House Bar, under whose wing it is protected by a modern fire sprinkler system.
While bartending at the Bird House Bar during my year of weekends I met my future partner in Chilkoot Charlie’s. He was a lawyer named Bill Jacobs, who owned a condominium at the base of Mount Alyeska and travelled back and forth from Anchorage to ski on weekends, regularly stopping to imbibe at the Bird House Bar. Norm and John and I had frequently discussed the idea of figuratively putting the Bird House Bar on a flat bed truck and hauling it to Anchorage, where all the people were. Bill and I became friends and I convinced him of the idea of creating an Alaska-themed bar in Anchorage. Bill made an arrangement with his mother, living in Chicago, to borrow $20,000 and the hunt was on for a location.
Bill was practicing law and I was feeding my family by selling life insurance while looking for a bar that suited our purposes. I had also made an arrangement with another friend to purchase a half block of property in downtown Anchorage with fifteen rentals on it, I being the resident manager. Bill and I were involved in probably ten different potential deals, some of course more appealing than others, and the very first one was the Alibi Club on Spenard Road, owned by Skip Fuller and Jack Griffin. I was not sure at the time that it was the best location and I felt they were asking for too much money.
Meanwhile, I was tired of selling insurance and a lot of people had suggested to me that I should become involved in radio or television, mostly because of my voice. In those days, broadcasters had to take a pretty simple FCC test and be licensed before they could go on the air, so I went to the old federal building on Fourth Avenue and got licensed.
Next, I applied for a job as a disc jockey with local radio station KHAR. I vividly remember Ken Flynn was the station manager and he had me go into a little booth and read a couple of advertisements over a microphone. One was an ad for Volkswagen. When I was finished he said, “I hate it when some kid walks in straight of the street and sounds better than I do!” Then he hired me.
Selling life insurance for New York Life, I basically set my own hours, so, though I was working on the downtown apartments, trying to put another bar deal together and crawling under the buildings of prospective purchases through the reeking fumes of space heaters placed to prevent the plumbing from freezing, I went in the mornings to KHAR each day to learn how to work “the board.” My teacher was Ruben Gaines. This chance meeting was one of the most important in either of our lives though neither of us could have possibly guessed it at the time.
Ruben was the consummate raconteur, and a truly gifted and professional writer and entertainer in every sense of the word. They simply didn’t “make ‘em any better, man!” I marveled at his abilities. He had a program called Conversations Unlimited, in which he entertained Alaskans every day of the week for half an hour during prime drive-home time with his storytelling, wit and social commentaries, mixed with easy-listening music fore and aft. His theme song, I nostalgically recall, was Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”
Ruben had different established characters in his stories, including Doc, Mrs. Malone, Six-toed Mordecai and, of course, Chilkoot Charlie, a titan sourdough reprobate Ruben dreamed up during a long, rainy winter in Ketchikan in the late 1940s. Ruben would bring these characters to life for his audience, and when he put himself into their different personalities he virtually become them. The character I remember most vividly being personalized was Doc, the crusty sourdough, for whom Ruben would greatly protrude his lower lip to produce the appropriate vocal personality.
Ruben had also worked a spell in Fairbanks before settling in Anchorage. While working in Fairbanks, he and another talented radio guy, sportscaster Ed Stevens, would brilliantly broadcast “live” major league baseball games. Of course, there were no satellites back then, so Alaskans had to wait several days for tape recordings to arrive, and calling the states was expensive. Ruben and Ed would receive the play-by-play information about a game from a buddy in the Lower 48 by telephone and would then “broadcast” the game as if it were live, including the excitement one would expect from the announcer, the sound effects of the ball being hit, the crowd roaring and all. People in the Bush never knew the difference between Ruben and Ed’s broadcasts and the real thing.
Each morning I sat watching Ruben produce his magic and not long after something monumental happened. Oil was discovered on the North Slope and a state auction raised $900,000,000 from the sale of leases at Prudhoe Bay. It was a colossal amount of money in 1969, though today the state’s budget is well over ten times that much each year. As Bob Dylan so aptly noted in his popular song, “. . . the times they [were] a-changin’,” and given the changing circumstances, I figured I would visit Skip Fuller again to see if the Alibi Club was still for sale. It was, but the price had gone up, like the price of everything else.
Not wanting to miss the potential bonanza of owning a bar during a boom period, Bill and I bit the bullet, borrowed the pre-arranged $20,000 from his mother for the down payment and closed the deal. Now owning the bar, I had to finalize my ideas on a name and specific Alaskan theme for the place. It came down to two ideas and I kept a pad by my bed and woke up frequently in the night writing down ideas about both. One had to do with a much-maligned local variety of salmon—the pink, or humpy. I had scales of ideas about Mr. and Mrs. Humpy. You do not have to think long about the idea to realize what fertile ground it is and, of course, sooner or later someone was going to employ the name, and did. The other idea was Chilkoot Charlie’s. I was torn between the two names.
I had a young married couple living in the six-plex on East Sixth Avenue. The husband’s name was Mel Bownes. He was a schoolteacher and I really liked him and his wife. When I would go around to collect the monthly rents they would sometimes invite me in for dinner. They lived in a very large apartment on the ground floor that had originally housed a gambling operation.
As a side note, a tenant at another time in this unit, Joe Hendricks, now Alaska’s most senior big game guide, tried to start the fireplace one night and almost burned the place down because the second floor had been built right over the first with no flue running through from the top of the first floor to the new roof line. I either failed to warn him or was as ignorant as he, probably the latter. There was a picture over the fireplace that had hinges on the upper edge so it could be lifted up and behind it was a hidden safe installed in the days when the apartment building had housed a gambling operation.
One night while I was having dinner with Mel and his wife I presented my dilemma to them. Mel hesitated not a moment and said, “What, are you crazy? Call it Chilkoot Charlie’s!” How could I turn down the forcefully presented suggestion of a guy, who was providing me with food and wine, and not only was a tenant, but had been a customer at The Bird House Bar and was a life insurance policy holder of mine to boot? It was a done deal.
We opened Chilkoot Charlie’s on January first of 1970, New Year’s Day, and the worst night of the year for any bar, but in the tradition of old Alaska, Skip threw a welcome party for us, inviting all of his loyal patrons and friends, and we grossed an incredible $464.50 that first night. Skip said, ‘When you sell a place you want to make sure the new guy can make it, and you’ve got to allow for him to do it in the way you structure the deal.’ He also said after the party, “Hang onto your money. You won’t have another night like that for a long time.”
We grossed $7,534.43 that first month and ended up the year with a gross of $158,775. Cliff, my manager, and I had so much fun with our zany outfits and our three piece band, The Rinky Tinks that first year, and business took off so fast, it was like hanging onto the bumper of an accelerating vehicle while trying to keep your legs moving fast enough to keep up. Toward the end of that first year, Skip said, “This place is going to pay for a lot of mistakes.”
Not far from the banks of the still solidly frozen Kuskokwim River, a series of trials aimed at establishing the fishing rights of the Yupik Eskimos of far Western Alaska opened Monday with a victory for the salmon still far at sea.May 20, 2013