Monday, November 6, 2017

Winter on Diomede Island Part 1

Ice, Iceberg, Aerial, Water, Blue, Cold  Years ago, I spend three years living on the Island of Little Diomede, about 1.5 miles from Big Diomede which is owned by the Russians.  Little Diomede isn't very big, only about 2 square miles but it is high enough that on a good day, you can see mainland Russia or mainland Alaska near Wales, north west of Nome.

Originally, everyone lived on Big Diomede and used little Diomede for the grave yard and for trash but somewhere along the way, some of the population moved over to Little Diomede.  Somewhere in the late 40's or early 50's Russia moved all the inhabitants to mainland Russia and replaced the population with a military garrison.

I know this because one day I cleaned out a file cabinet filled with cards with neat handwritten names, birth dates, and dates of entry to the United States.  From what I pieced together, these people were here to visit relatives.   This stopped the day people left for Russia.  There are a few houses still left from the original village because one man got lost in a snow storm and spent the night there.  He came back telling everyone about his luck.

The only way to visit Little Diomede is via the once a week helicopter trips to convey mail and bypass to the island.  Mail is ferried to Wales by plane and stored in a connex in between helicopter trips.  The helicopter flies out of Nome with a load of mail and goes straight to Diomede.  After unloading the mail, the pilot flies over to Wales to load up with more mail and passengers.  He continues back and forth most of the day, fueling up in Wales as needed.  When it gets late enough, he'll head back to Nome, to wait till the next week.

If you check things out, this mail run is the most expensive in the state and possibly for the country.  When winter arrives, it means the ocean water starts to freeze.  Once the ice is about three feet thick, planes are able to land safely, discharge and collect passengers, and drop off and pick up mail.  Unfortunately, this ice runway does not last more than 6 weeks or so.   The great thing about this time of the year is that flights arrive at least once a day weather permitting, making it so much easier to get in and out.

The whole time I was on Little Diomede, I lucked out.  I never had to fly to Wales to wait to connect to a regular flight from Nome on a small plane.  I always ended up on the direct flight too and from Nome.  Anyone who flew via Wales, had to wait outside by a connex.  You had to hope the weather wasn't super cold otherwise it was horrid.  If you were lucky, you wouldn't have to wait long or if you knew someone you could visit while you waited for your flight.

The biggest problem with the ice runway is basically that you never knew when the flights would start or end.  It was more like one day, the planes would start flying in. It was so neat watching them fly in and land.  We always knew if it was someone's first time out there because they'd give us the flight number, time it was due in, and ask us to meet them at the gate.  The reality is that the plane landed about a quarter mile out, you disembarked and walked in to the village while the agent threw the luggage on a sled before hauling it into town and you claimed it there.

Then in the spring, the planes flew one day but not the next.  I remember one time when a doctor was out visiting.  He checked one of the expectant girls and said she'd be fine to head in the next day.  Women who are expecting are sent into the large towns about a month before their due date just in case.  The doctor got on the flight that evening and the next day, the ice was too thin so no more planes.  The girl went into labor and delivered over night.  She had to go in on the helicopter when it made its first run of the season.

Enough for today.  Tomorrow, I want to explain about seeing a polar bear floating by the island, just like in the picture from Sunday.  Have a good day and let me know what you think.

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