To the consternation of passengers aboard a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, the plane landed not in sunny LA but in a remote, treeless and bleak US airbase on a chilly, windswept island in Alaska’s Aleutian archipelago.
The reason was smoke – not on the island but aboard the aircraft. The pilot decided to put Cathay flight 884 down at Eareckson Air Station in Shemya Island, Alaska, after smoke was detected aboard.
The B777-300ER sat on the Shemya Island runway while passengers watched movies and ate their way through the plane’s meals. The flight, carrying 276 passengers and 18 crew, departed Shemya yesterday and flew about 2400 kilometres to Anchorage, Alaska. Cathay flew in another plane from Hong Kong to convey everyone from Anchorage to Los Angeles.
Cathay is still investigating the cause of the smoke.
In 1956, Northwest Airlines leased Shemya Island from the US government to use as a refuelling station on its North Pacific route. According to Northwest’s website, that made them “the first airline to operate its own airport”.
The station was renamed the Eareckson Air Station in 1993 to honour USAF Colonel William O. Eareckson, who had commanded bomber operations during the Aleutian Islands Campaign against Japan in World War II.
The station still operates as a radar outpost and aircraft refuelling facility with a staff of about 180 people. In 2000, the census recorded an official resident population of 27 people living on the notoriously windy and cold island.
Written by Peter Needham