7 November 0600
Akutan - the name of the Village of approximately 90 people of Aleut descent and Trident Seafoods Akutan Plant housing 1,200 people now and 1,400 people starting January 2014 and the Island itself. Akutan, located approx 40 miles Northeast of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor is half-way down Alaska's Aleutian Island Chain separating the Bering Sea to the north and the North Pacific to the south.
Travel to and from the island is difficult at best. People coming/going to the island must first fly into Dutch Harbor from Anchorage. A trip of 3 to 3.5 hours covering 750 miles from Anchorage in a Saab 340 30 seat Turbo Prop. Depending on the number of people traveling to Dutch Harbor and the amout of luggage, sometimes luggage will be left behind for weights/balance issues and frequently there is 30 minute refueling stop in King Salmon.
Weather is biggest factor in traveling down the Aleutians. On this particular trip to work, my first flight was cancelled in Anchorage before boarding the aircraft due to fog and weather in Dutch. The second day we made it as far as King Salmon where we waited for several hours, hoping the fog would lift in Dutch. It didn't so we returned to Anchorage for another night. Finally, on the 3rd day, the sun was bright and sunny, the clouds a beautiful white and we were able land in Dutch Harbor under clear skies.
The most problematic part of travel to Akutan is not the trip between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor - 750 miles apart. It is the 40 mile trip between Dutch Harbor and Akutan that is a travelers night mare, coming and going.
In October 2012, Penn Air suspended its WW II ERA Gruman Goose Service to Akutan. This amphibious aircraft would land in Akutan Bay and then go up a small concrete ramp next to the Safe Harbor Church located closed to the Village where passengers - up to 8 and luggage would get off/on the plane. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to fly on the marvelous plane. Landing on the water and having the waves splash up onto the window as the plane taxis across the water to the ramp, or taking off from the water is truly remarkable.
A new airport had been built on the uninhabited island of Akun - 6 miles to the north of Akutan. It has a paved lighted runway that is approx 4,500 feet long capable of handling the smaller fixed wing aircraft. The trip between Dutch and Akun takes approx 15 minutes in a Navajo Chieftan. Converted Connexs serve as the waiting area for passsengers. Once there passengers are taken to the Hovercraft, which can take up to 40 people at a time,to be ferried to Akutan and the former Goose landing pad. This trip generally takes 20-30 minutes.
Now travelers to Akutan are not only face with wind/fog and other atmospheric factors involved in traveling, we now have to also contend with the sea between the two islands which each separate the Bering Sea from the North Pacific. The weather is often beautiful, sunny and clear, however if the seas are two rough, the hovercraft can't operate. Also, it seems as though the hovercraft is "down" for mechanical or maintainence issues. People have been stuck on Akun for up to 7-10 days because of both atmospheric and sea conditions.
Trident Seafoods Akutan Plant is North America's largest seafood processing plant, capable of processing up to 3 million tons of product a day. The primary products are Cod and Pollock and King Crab in Oct/November. At any one time, the processors and employees here represent over 30 different countries. English is mostly definitely a second/third or even fourth language for most and many do not speak English at all.