Hundreds get unique view of Juneau with 'Night Flights'

Hundreds of locals lined up in the Juneau International Airport lobby Friday night, but they weren’t there to get out of town for the holidays.

In fact, their intention was to see this town in a unique way.

“I went in a helicopter that took off!” two-year-old Parker Arriaga said gleefully after his brief aerial tour.

More than 360 Juneauites soared over the Mendenhall Valley during the clear night as part of the annual “Night Flights” fundraiser put on by the Mendenhall Flying Lions Club and Coastal Helicopters.

“I love it,” event chairman and club member Neil Atkinson said. “The best part is seeing the kids come off their rides — their eyes are like silver dollars. They’re smiling big time.”

The cost was $30 per person, regardless of age, and half the money raised will be donated to the Children’s Tumor Foundation. The other half will help fund the club’s events throughout the year.

This year’s event raised about $11,000. Last year the event raised about $12,600.

All the fuel and personnel costs to operate the helicopters for the event were donated. Regular rates for renting a helicopter, pilot and getting the fuel run $1,800 per hour, according to Mike Rawson, the director of operations for Coastal Helicopters.

“It’s something different than we do every day, “ said Mary Wilcock, one of the pilots. “We fly at night once a year, so it’s cool for us too.”

She added that flying locals and children is a particularly enjoyable part of the event.

One group participating in the annual event was there to kick off a weekend-long celebration of Juneauite Jonathan Wood’s 28th birthday.

“We came as a bunch of friends,” Wood said. “It seemed like a great way to spend a Friday night.”

Donning party hats, the group planned to have a sledding party complete with adult beverages after their flight, before starting a “weekend of adventure.”

“This is my best friend in the world, so I wanted to take ‘Fuzzypants’ on a helicopter ride,” said Jason Rush, one of Wood’s friends.

Atkinson said the uniqueness of the event is what draws many people back year-to-year.

“When you look at it from an experience standpoint, it’s super cheap,” he said.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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