Thorne Bay, Alaska
Look closely at this photo of Alaska life taken at 1:45 pm on November 25, 2015. The floatplane is departing in a snowstorm. What’s wrong with this picture? Hmm. Though the image doesn’t show the scene quite the way it was, I can tell you – it was a blizzard with near white-out conditions. Fat, fluffy snowflakes brought visibility down to nearly nothing. Standing at the end of the dock, I tracked the plane by its buzz until it came into view briefly.
How could N264P take off? It didn’t. The aircraft taxied through the bay and around the inlet on Prince of Wales Island until it reached a break in the snowfall, and then it took off across Clarence Strait to Ketchikan. The flight was not typical. Bush pilots of Alaska are incredible and fly the mail and passengers in whenever possible, but sometimes they take risks. As a passenger, you need to be the one to judge whether you want to be on the plane.
The floatplane flew with Pacific Airways until it closed in March 2020. Isolated communities in southeast Alaska like Meyer’s Chuck relied on PacAir to deliver the mail for twenty years and resorted to mail boats in some places right after the company shut down. For more details, click – here.
Now, for the rest of the story.
I wrote about this commuter plane coming into Thorne Bay in a blizzard in my memoir The Call of the Last Frontier. Chapter 68 is called “It’s Worth It” and recounts my experience on the dock watching this plane flying in and then taxiing through the bay waiting for a break in the storm to take off. The plane cruised by a barge being pulled by a tugboat. With visibility being far worse than this photo depicts, I was sure they would collide.