Remote Alaskan Residents Use Car Headlights to Light Runway So Medevac Plane Can Land

The call went out, and the whole town showed up.
A call went out, and the runway lit up.Ida Nelson/LifeMed Alaska

Residents of tiny Alaskan town drove to airport and trained their headlights on runway so emergency plane could land.

Sometimes it does take a village — or at least the headlights of every car in a tiny town.

A LifeMed Alaska medevac plane needed to pick up a sick child in the remote, indigenous village of Igiugig last week. She needed to be transported to a hospital in Anchorage, about 280 miles to the northeast. 

There was a major problem. The lights weren't working at the small airport, and it was pitch black. 

Ida Nelson, a tribal clerk and newsletter editor for the village council, could hear a small plane circling in the dark. She jumped into her car and headed for the isolated runway.

There, she found a local pilot trying to turn the lights on.

“I asked him, ‘Should I go to the end of the airport and try to light up the end of the runway?’” she told The New York Times. “He said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and try.’”

So she did. But it wasn't much help. That's when she got on the phone. At least 20 neighbors, many in their pajamas, showed up and aimed their headlights on the runway so the plane could land.

“That’s pretty much almost every household in this village,” she told Alaska Public Media. “I was anxious and nervous and I was like, ‘So what if that was my baby [waiting for that] plane.’”

The LifeMed Alaska Facebook page shared a glimpse of the view from above, praising Igiugig for “a little ingenuity and a lot of determination.”