The residents were asked to park in a safe area near the runway lights and point their lights in one direction.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 9, 2023. It has since been updated.
There's nothing better than people coming together for a good cause. Residents of a small Alaskan town decided to join forces for one such cause in December 2022. They used their vehicles to light up a runway for a medevac flight to land safely so that it could transport a patient, as reported by ABC News.
Deering is a city in the Northwest Arctic Borough. According to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, a light fixture at a Deering Airport runway stopped working after gravel and ice affected the system. Left with a dark runway due to the broken lights, workers at the Deering Clinic turned to community members for help in coming up with a way to arrange light for the safe landing of a medevac flight. The residents of Deering used their ATVs and trucks to light up the runway which not only helped the medevac plan to land and pick up the patient from the Deering Clinic but also to later take off. Speaking of the inspiring incident, a community health aide at the Deering Clinic said: "It was very heartwarming. We all came together to make it possible and then it was so cool when the medevac landed; the Northern Lights came out."
One of the volunteers, Daisy Weinard, told Anchorage Daily News: "It felt really good for all the community to just come together. When they said people needed help, you know, we've always done this, we've always helped each other when we are in need."
The clinic said people turned up with more than 30 vehicles at the airport. The pilot reportedly got approval to land after several back-and-forth calls with the medevac operator Guardian Flight. The residents were asked to park in a safe area near the runway lights and point their lights in one direction. "That way the pilot from one direction can see their headlights and then in the other direction he can see everybody's tail lights," said airport worker Calvin Moto who gave instructions to the community members along with resident Alvin Iyatunguk Sr.
Weinard said that the community was "committed to helping the plane land" despite the temperature of -8 degrees and a 20-below wind chill. "It was kind of heartfelt, you know, seeing all those other people up there to support the patient that needed to go out," Weinard said. "It's kind of emotional."
The lights at the runway were not functioning since December 14, 2022, but are now working again, said John Perreault, information officer at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. "We're terrifically proud of the community spirit that Deering showed and the bravery of the pilots of the medevac who were able to work under adverse conditions," Perreault said. He added that this is not the first time the Deering residents have helped with lighting up a dark runway, they did it in 2020 as well. "This was a remarkable event," he said.
In a similar instance in Igiugig in Southwest Alaska in 2020, community members came ahead with their cars, trucks and ATVs to light up a runway for a medevac plane to land and save the life of a child. About 20 vehicles showed up for the cause at the time, allowing the plane to land, load the patient and take off while the community kept the runway lit.