Whale vs. plane brings fame

Former reporter part of Dave Barry column

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2002

Sixties pop art icon Andy Warhol once predicted everyone would get 15 minutes of fame. For former Empire reporter Kathy Dye, that time comes this week as one of her articles is featured in a nationally syndicated column by Miami humorist Dave Barry.

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The column, printed in today's This Week section of the Empire and in hundreds of other newspapers, spins off of an article Dye wrote last August about the near-collision of a floatplane and a humpback whale near Kake.

Dye, now a writer for the Sealaska Heritage Institute, wasn't sure about her new-found fame in a column known for irreverent approaches to small-town tales that's read by millions of people.

"At first I was concerned to know I had caught the attention of Dave Barry, but attention of dubious origin is better than being ignored," Dye said Wednesday.

The near-collision involved Petersburg's Rod Judy, a commercial pilot who flew to an island near Kake to pick up two U.S. Forest Service employees.

According to Dye's article, the plane was traveling fast and just about to lift off when a humpback whale suddenly breached in front of the aircraft. Judy said there was plenty of room to miss the marine mammal. But passenger Burl Weller told a different story.

"We were staring right into the whale's stomach," said Weller. "It had to be at least 15 feet above the airplane ... you could see under his tail - he had air under his tail."

In this week's column, which makes fun of the perils of vacation travel, Barry mentions Dye and briefly retells her tale. Then he speculates that whale-plane encounters may be more common than anyone thinks.

"For all we know, the so-called 'turbulence' that planes often encounter during flights is actually the pilots dodging airborne whales - many of which, by the way, have NOT gone through metal detectors, which means they could be carrying scissors," he wrote.

Barry is known for picking up on odd tidbits of local news, such as exploding cows and attack vending machines.

Dye said the plane-whale incident fit within that definition.

"I thought it was one of the most bizarre things I ever heard. Just the idea of a plane possibly colliding with a whale seemed outside the realm of possibility," she said.

Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at eschoenfeld@juneauempire.com.

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