Weather forces large Alaska-bound cargo plane to land in Whitehorse

·3 min read
Bad weather conditions forced a Western Global cargo airplane to land at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport on Dec. 26. (Submitted by Simon Blakesley. - image credit)
Bad weather conditions forced a Western Global cargo airplane to land at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport on Dec. 26. (Submitted by Simon Blakesley. - image credit)

Whitehorse residents passing the airport on Boxing Day afternoon may have noticed a large and unusual visitor.

This was a Western Global cargo aircraft that was forced to divert from its route to Alaska due to poor weather and land at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport.

Simon Blakesley is an aviation photographer who was about to go for his annual Boxing Day walk around 1 p.m., when he heard the aircraft would be arriving on a radio scanner.

"I heard the Western Global call ... on the airport tower frequency, which, Western Global? I don't think they've ever come to Whitehorse before for any reason," he said. "So that just made my ears prick, that 'why would a Western Global freighter aircraft like that be talking to our control tower?' "

Western Global Airlines is a Florida-based air cargo transportation service.

Blakesley said once he realized the plane would be landing, he grabbed his camera gear — which he always keeps close — and headed straight to the airport. He said he missed the landing, but arrived in time to take some photos of the aircraft on the tarmac.

"It is one of the biggest that I've seen here," Blakesley said of the cargo plane.

Nigel Cripps, the airport manager, said Nav Canada was notified of the arrival about 30 minutes before the aircraft landed.

The cargo aircraft, known as McDonnell Douglas MD-11, was traveling from Seoul to Anchorage, Alaska.

Cripps said bad weather around Alaska meant it needed a different place to land.

As the aircraft was arriving internationally, Cripps notified border services. He said Air North ramp staff then assisted the arriving airplane with its landing.

Josh Clark is Air North's director of charter, fixed base operations, and corporate.

Clark said Air North has a fixed base operation at the Whitehorse airport that offers supports, including de-icing and refueling, to planes landing for whatever reason.

"They're northern based, they're highly trained," he said. "Their key goal every day is to ensure safe and reliable operations... whether it's a scheduled or unscheduled arrival. They marshal the aircraft in and make sure it's on the ground safely and basically tuck it in."

As Whitehorse is on a popular flight path, Cripps said these types of situations can happen every few years.

"Generally as an airport, we're well equipped to handle most situations," he said.

The international status of the airport has added benefits for pilots who find themselves in any sort of emergency situation in the North, as it has a large runway that can accommodate bigger aircraft — like the Western Global one.

Cripps said the arrival did make for an eventful Boxing Day and credited everyone who helped with the situation, which included the airfield maintenance staff who braved blowing snow and cold temperatures.

"I think all the people involved handled it really well," he said.

Cripps said the aircraft was still at the Whitehorse airport as of Monday morning, but he expects it will depart by the end of the day.

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