Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2005

Pilot, dog found safe near Berners Bay

JUNEAU - The Civil Air Patrol on Friday afternoon located a Juneau pilot who couldn't take off from a slushy frozen lake near Berners Bay.

The man, whose name has not been released, is safe. He and his dog spent Friday night in a tent. The man expected to receive help extricating the man's Cessna 206 on Saturday, said Pat Shier, a spokesman for the Civil Air Patrol.

At 1 p.m. Friday, the Juneau Flight Service Station of the Federal Aviation Administration notified the U.S. Coast Guard and the Civil Air Patrol that the pilot was one hour overdue in Juneau.

The pilot had filed a flight plan showing that he would leave Juneau for the Berners Bay area and come back the same day, Shier said.

The Coast Guard sent a helicopter from Sitka to search for the man, but he was found by the Civil Air Patrol before the helicopter arrived in the area, said Lt. Charter Tschirgi.

The man was found at about 4:30 p.m. on Antler Lake, Shier said. The Civil Air Patrol, also flying a Cessna 206, talked to the man by radio and made sure he was healthy and had what he needed to spend the night safely.

The man's airplane had encountered slushy snow when it landed on skis on the lake, preventing the plane from taking off, Shier said.

Judge: No revote in Washington State

WENATCHEE, Wash. - Dealing a blow to Republicans seeking a revote for Washington governor, a Chelan County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that even if Republicans win their election challenge he can't order a new election.

"The court doesn't have that authority," Judge John E. Bridges said.

Aside from the revote ruling, it was a day of setbacks for the Democrats as Bridges denied their motions to dismiss the challenge or move it to the Legislature.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi and the state GOP sued to challenge Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire's election, saying her 129-vote margin of victory was tainted by so many errors and illegal votes that the courts should throw out the results and order a new election. They sued Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, and the state's 39 counties.

As interveners in the case, Democrats have defended the election results, saying Rossi lacks the proof needed to overturn the election and that a revote would be unconstitutional.

Both sides claimed victory after Friday's daylong hearing: Republicans because the judge denied motions to dismiss the case, and Democrats because the judge granted their motion to take a revote off the table as a remedy.

Bills would transfer land to University

JUNEAU - More than 500,000 acres of state and federal land would be transferred to the University of Alaska under proposals announced Friday by Gov. Frank Murkowski and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The governor said he planned to introduce a bill that would transfer 260,000 acres of state land to the university using a process that would take three years to complete and cost less than $850,000.

University officials and the state Department of Natural Resources had spent much of the past year selecting the land, said Gov. Murkowski spokesman Mike Chambers. The land would be used as educational properties and investment properties to generate revenue.

The land includes 40,114 acres in Southeast Alaska, 17,110 acres in Southcentral Alaska and 202,776 acres in Interior Alaska.

The governor plans to introduce the bill on Monday, Chambers said.

"This land transfer will help fulfill the promise of a true land grant university. It provides a portfolio of income and educational properties to deliver to the University of Alaska both a steady and strong funding stream and the tools to expand its research capabilities," Gov. Murkowski said in a statement.

In Washington, D.C., Sen. Murkowski introduced legislation Friday to grant 250,000 acres of federal land to the university, with provisions to match the extra acreage of the state land grant.

The senator's bill would require the university to return about 10,000 acres it now holds in national parks and refuges, including in Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and in the Alaska Peninsula and Maritime National Wildlife refuges.

The university would be unable to choose any federal land classified as roadless, old-growth timber acreage in the Tongass National Forest or land used by federal or military institutions.

Transportation of bodies delayed

KODIAK - Relatives of two foreign crewmembers who died when the fishing vessel Big Valley went down in the Bering Sea waited more than two weeks for the bodies to leave Alaska because of delays encountered in getting signed death certificates to Kodiak.

The snag touched off an international effort through the embassies of Belgium and Uruguay to speed up the return of Danny Vermeersch and Carlos Rivero to their families. The bodies of the two men were shipped out of Kodiak last Sunday.

Vermeersch, 33, of Belgium, and Rivero, 35, of Uruguay, were among six men on board the Big Valley when it sank Jan. 15, the opening day of the opilio crab season. Three of the crew members remain lost at sea and one crewmember survived.

The state medical examiner's office is responsible for issuing death certificates in situations without an attending physician.

Medical examiner Dr. Franc Fallico said the delay in the Big Valley case was due to a change in the way death certificates are sent out, as well as human error.

The medical examiner's office now works with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in sending out signed death certificates, a process that resulted in a delay of about a week, Fallico said. The agencies are changing over to an electronic system for transferring signed death certificates.

Further delaying the process in the Big Valley case, the certificates were mistakenly sent to Kenai, Fallico said.

The bodies were held at the Kodiak Mortuary run by Janet and Roland Warnecke.

The couple received daily calls from foreign embassies, asking about the holdup. They worked with the Kodiak state legislators and other officials to try to get the signed death certificates faster.

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