State Briefs

Posted: Thursday, August 08, 2002

Alaska Airline jet returns safely to Boston after engine problem

BOSTON - About three minutes after taking off from Logan Airport, Emilie Soisson looked out the window of the plane and saw flames shooting from the left engine of the Alaska Airlines 737 jet.

"It was like a big fireball," said Soisson, a 24-year-old hospital employee from Boston's Brighton neighborhood. "I was scared. I was hyperventilating."

Seattle-bound Flight 15, with 154 passengers and six crew aboard, had climbed less than 3,000 feet when it turned around and landed safely back at Logan, about 15 minutes after takeoff about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The pilot never had to shut down the engine, said Phil Orlandella, spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport.

Jack Walsh, airline spokesman, said the engine never caught fire. Walsh said what the captain reported was likely a compression stall, essentially a backfiring, which could have produced a brief flame and made a loud noise.

Rush-hour commuters in Revere and the East Boston neighborhood could see the flaming jet passing overhead, and hundreds of people flocked to open areas such as Revere Beach to watch the plane.

Boston television stations aired home video of the plane that showed a series of short bursts of flame coming from one engine.

"You feel the plane shaking and you look out the window and see red sparks from the left-hand side, you're just hoping that the plane doesn't nosedive or something," said another passenger, Mike Gillette, 31, of Waltham. "You're just like, 'Keep steady, keep steady, keep steady ... just get me on the ground.' "

The flight was canceled and passengers were to be put on alternative flights today, Orlandella said.

The aircraft used for Flight 15 was 1 year old, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. No maintenance records on it were available.

The FAA is investigating the incident.

Alaska receives $8.2 million in rural grant money

ANCHORAGE - The federal government has promised nearly $8.2 million in grant money for rural economic development.

The money will assist in creating community services in health care, education and public safety in areas of high unemployment and economic depression.

The grant is a special initiative under a Department of Agriculture Rural Development program. Nationwide, more than 150 projects will receive $16.5 million.

The projects must be essential community facilities and services for public use in rural communities.

Communities must have a population of fewer than 20,000 people and an unemployment rate of at least 19 percent to qualify.

Ketchikan Borough Assembly fires clerk

KETCHIKAN - The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted 5-1 Monday night to fire its borough clerk.

The action followed an executive session in which the assembly evaluated clerk Sue Bethel's job performance.

After the closed-door session, Borough Mayor Jack Shay reported that the Assembly had made recommendations regarding how she could improve. But on a motion by Assembly member George Lybrand, the Assembly voted to fire Bethel.

Shay said he was surprised by the successful motion.

Assembly member Sam Bergeron voted against Lybrand's motion and said Bethel will be missed.

The Assembly has three employees who it hires and can fire: the manager, the municipal attorney and the clerk. All other employees are responsible to the manager and specific department heads.

Oil spill trustees revise injured species list

ANCHORAGE - The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has determined that orcas in Prince William Sound should be considered "recovering," not "recovered," from the effects of the 1989 oil spill.

The trustees adopted a final list of which injured species and habitats have recovered, or are still recovering, and which are not yet showing signs of improvement.

It is essentially a report card on the health of the Sound's ecosystem, said Bob Spies, the council's chief scientist.

Last spring, a team of scientists familiar with the Sound and its mammals, fish, beaches and birds issued a report suggesting that the AB pod of killer whales should join the list of recovered species. Also on the draft list for the first time were pink and red salmon, black oystercatchers, common murres and the subtidal communities on dozens of beaches.

On a separate list, harlequin ducks and Pacific herring were said to be recovering, an improvement over the species' previous standing of "not recovering."

That was the advisers' view. But members of the public took exception earlier this summer, and Tuesday the trustee council took that testimony to heart. In adopting the final lists, it removed killer whales from "recovered" and said they are "recovering."

The trustees also moved herring and harlequin ducks from "recovering" to "not recovering."

"There's no disagreement on the science or the status of the recovery," explained Molly McCammon, the council's executive director. "This is just a disagreement over where (each species) is on the continuum of recovery."

The council also approved $3.7 million on nearly three dozen scientific projects next year to study the health of the Prince William Sound ecosystem.

Man completes nationwide quest for dessert

KENAI - Where better to experience a noteworthy Blizzard than Soldotna?

That's what New Jersey resident Alan Schmidt was thinking Tuesday as he completed a personal quest to eat a Dairy Queen Blizzard in every state in the union.

"It's been a lot of fun. It just makes life a little more interesting," he said.

Schmidt has completed a number of other milestones, including visits to every major league baseball stadium, all 50 states and every county in the country. He has played golf in all 50 states. He's a member of the "Extra Mile Club," a group that pursues similar quests, all in the name of fun.

He said he got the Blizzard idea while enjoying one of the frozen concoctions with his wife, Kathy, and a couple of high school friends.

Schmidt's Blizzard - frozen "soft serve" dessert flavored with cookies, candy or fruit - on Tuesday was downed on the couple's 36th wedding anniversary. His wife has shared 30 of the Blizzards.

"This is his quest. I'm just along for the ride," she said.

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