State and local briefly

Posted: Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Search on for missing plane

ANCHORAGE -- The National Park Service and a number of air taxi operators were searching today for a plane with four people aboard reported missing on a flight between Talkeetna and Mount McKinley.

The pilot of the plane radioed about 6:30 p.m. Monday that he was returning to Talkeetna after failing to get into the base camp on the Kahiltna glacier, Park Service spokeswoman Jane Tranel said.

The Kahiltna camp is at the 7,200-foot level of Mount McKinley and is used by climbers scaling the 20,320-foot mountain.

Visibility at the time the plane disappeared was low, with rain and hail reported in the area. The weather was clearing Tuesday morning.

Road visitors to Haines decline

HAINES -- The number of people driving into Haines is declining and merchants say it's making a difference at the cash register.

U.S. citizens driving into Haines in May dropped this year to 2,786, a 15 percent drop from May 1999 and the lowest volume for the month since 1991.

Retailers, campground owners and others who depend on car traffic told the Chilkat Valley News that business is down 15 percent to 25 percent.

When averaged with April traffic, overall volumes are down only 4 percent compared to last year. But April figures may have been artificially buoyed by Haines residents snowmachining in Chilkat Pass.

According to statistics from U.S. and Canada border stations, traffic in and out of Haines from April through September climbed gradually after 1987, peaked in 1993 and, except for a jump in 1998, has declined every year since.

Merchants cite high gasoline prices and an unfavorable Canadian exchange rate for the decline, but changes in the travel industry and vacation habits may also be factors.

Tina Lindgren, president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, said people are taking shorter vacations. Alaska visitors are likely to fly up and rent a car or recreational vehicle here, rather than drive the Alaska Highway or take a ferry from the Lower 48.

But Skagway has seen sizable increases in highway traffic since 1993 and a huge jump in 1998, the year of the Skagway centennial.

Haines-Skagway Water taxi owner Alison Jacobson said competition from Skagway for independents, as well as daily ferry service from Juneau, may be hurting independent traffic to Haines.

In previous years, when travelers had to wait for the ferry, they spent money in town, she said.

State warns of PSP potential risk

JUNEAU -- Low tides this week may prompt seaside gleaners to go in search of something succulent for chowder. Clams, mussels, shrimp and crab are a few of the delights the Pacific offers, but the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation cautions recreational fishermen and subsistence harvesters to beware of paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) from shellfish collected on beaches.

``The risks are real, and no one wants to ruin even a day of his summer by getting sick,'' said Mike Ostasz, DEC's shellfish program specialist in Anchorage.

PSP is a potentially lethal toxin which can lead to fatal respiratory paralysis. The toxin comes from algae that is a food source for clams, mussels and crabs. It builds up in their tissues.

The only beaches that DEC can certify as safe for shellfish collecting are those where clams and mussels are tested regularly. Certified beaches are all in the Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay areas. There are no certified beaches in Southeast Alaska.

For details, call Manny Soares at (907) 269-7640 or Mike Ostasz at (907) 269-7638.

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