Extraordinary People

Emergency plane for sick child can’t land – so locals use cars to guide it

Like a scene from a Hollywood film.

In what sounds like a scene from a Hollywood action film, a sick child’s life fell into jeopardy as the emergency plane that had been sent to collect them struggled to land.

The plane had taken off as planned, though as it finished the journey the runway lights failed with the pilot unable to see where was safe on the ground.

Though thanks to the residents of Igiugig in Alaska – a village of 70 people – the community came together in an act that deserves to be written into the history books.

[Credit: Sarah Ransom]

To make up for the runway failings, the locals assembled their cars to light the path so the plane could land and pick up the child who needed medical attention.


The village’s head tribal clerk, Ida Nelson, explained how she felt nervous although knew there was only one solution after putting herself in the shoes of the child’s parents.

Speaking to CNN, Nelson said: “I was feeling nervous, anxious because this is late at night and this is someone’s child. The only thing I could think of was how quickly I could get other people here to help because what if that was my baby’s plane?”

[Credit: CBC News]

Nelson, who was taking a sauna when she heard the commotion, continued: “Normally planes don’t fly at 11.30 at night, so I instantly knew something was wrong. Once the plane flew over, I looked over toward the runway and the lights were not working.”

She then jumped into her car and headed towards the airport, just a few hundred yards away, where she discovered the emergency dispatch plane was flying really low.

As it became clear airport staff were unable to turn the lights on manually from the ground, Nelson came up with the idea to light the runway herself.

She then spoke to a neighbour and asked them to rally the troops, with that neighbour going on to make a further 32 calls to locals.

Within 20 minutes, there were 20 vehicles with all of their headlights lighting up the route and leading the plane to safety.

[Credit: Bryan Goff]

Heaping praise on Nelson and her comrades, LifeMed Alaska CEO, Russ Edwards, said: “Fortunately, the crew and the folks on the ground were able to come up with a safe and creative solution. Without that cooperation from everybody, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Indeed, the child boarded onto the aircraft safely and sped off to Anchorage [the largest city in Alaska] for treatment.

Following the incident, it was discovered that the runway lights have been out of action since February after they were damaged over the winter by snow removal equipment.

The village have now corrected the wiring problem and repaired the lights.

Let’s hope they won’t be needing them again in a hurry.

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