Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Two die in plane crash near Wood River

FAIRBANKS - Two men died in a small plane accident near Wood River southwest of Fairbanks, according to Alaska State Troopers.

The plane went down Monday night, killing Sean Hill, 27, of North Pole, and his only passenger, Kevin Krause, 25, of North Pole.

The men were flying in a two-seater Bellanca 7GCBC when the engine failed. The cause of the failure was not immediately known.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident. Troopers will assist in the investigation if needed.

Explosion injures ex-Iditarod champion

FAIRBANKS - Former Iditarod champion Jerry Riley and another man were recovering Tuesday from burns sustained when a campfire ignited a cloud of propane leaking from a tank.

Riley, 68, was released Tuesday from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said Susan Gregg-Hanson, a hospital spokeswoman. There were no immediate plans to discharge Dallas Foster, 58, who was listed in satisfactory condition, Gregg-Hanson said.

Riley could not be reached after he left the hospital and Foster declined to comment.

The men, both of Nenana, were injured Saturday shortly after their four-man hunting party arrived at COD Lake on the Minto Flats, according to hunting partner Darren Mudge of Nenana. The fourth hunter, Ray Fox, also was hurt in the blast but did not immediately seek medical attention.

Riley, Foster and Fox were unloading supplies from a boat onto a bulldozer to haul to Riley's remote cabin. Mudge already had begun scouting for moose several miles from the site.

The three men were placing the 100-pound propane tank on the bulldozer when they punctured it, Mudge said. The propane cloud quickly reached the campfire about 20 yards away and exploded.

Alyeska owners won't overhaul Valdez port

ANCHORAGE - Owners of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline have decided not to overhaul the Valdez tanker port because of high costs, but will still make smaller changes to the nearly 30-year-old terminal.

The changes include building a lake on the mountainside above the port that would release a torrent of fresh water to fight fires. The port currently relies on a pump-driven seawater firefighting system.

Alyeska might also retire some of the port's 18 oil storage tanks, each of which holds 510,000 barrels of oil, or just over half a day's North Slope production.

Another change at the port will be to move the Operations Control Center to Anchorage, said Alyeska spokesman Mike Heatwole. The center, which employs about 30 people, controls oil flow down the pipeline as well as tanker loading.

Some industry observers believed a port overhaul would cost around $250 million.

Plans had included shutting down the power plant in favor of possibly buying electricity from a local power utility and fitting the port's immense oil storage tanks with internal floating lids to more easily control dangerous vapors.

Stan Jones, spokesman for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, said his organization has mixed feelings about Alyeska's downsized port modification plan. Fewer storage tanks could lead to a backup of North Slope oil, possibly encouraging tanker operators to take more chances to haul away oil in winter when weather is worst and North Slope oil production is highest, Jones said.

Fish scientists share monitor techniques

ANCHORAGE - Scientists swapped techniques on the best ways to spy on fish this week at an annual fisheries conference that brought together researchers from around the Pacific Rim.

Methods for watching and counting water-dwelling creatures included sonar and cameras trained on fish as they migrate up rivers or along the Pacific Coast.

Over the past few years, Alaska biologists have been testing a sonar that can count fish with more accuracy than older devices.

The system was originally developed to help Navy divers detect submarine mines, said state biologist Debby Burwen.

Now it is used in the Kenai, Copper and Anchor rivers to produce shimmery images of swimming salmon. The goal is to count them and not miss fish that can sneak over or under beams from older sonar technology, she said.

East Coast scientist Brad Harris, a former Homer resident, showed how he and other scientists have been using underwater cameras lowered from fishing boats to count scallops on the sea floor without dredging or killing them. A video showed dozens of the shellfish jetting away from the camera across the sea floor, popping up and then settling into the muck.

Canadian biologist David Welch described a project using sea bottom sensors to track the migration of fish across thousands of miles.

Inserting a pill-sized device inside a fish causes it to trip the sensor when it swims past a sunken receiver.

This summer, 80 miles of sensors were placed in six locations along the Pacific Coast, including an array outside Alaska's Icy Bay. They tracked the movement of 2,700 salmon from British Columbia through the ocean.

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