Alaska News Nightly: August 1, 2011

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House Passes Bill to Raise Debt Ceiling

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House passed tonight a bill to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts. The tally was 269 to 161.

The Senate plans to vote Tuesday.

Congress has pushed its votes to the brink. The Treasury Department set Tuesday as the day the nation risks defaulting on its debt.

While some members of Congress proved hard for their leadership to whip to vote for the deal, Alaska’s Congressional delegation is solidly on board.

BBAHC Blames Layoffs on Washington Woes

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

This spring the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation cut 19 employees in two rounds of layoffs.     They were the first Indian Health Service funded health care provider in Alaska to blame the budget woes in Washington D.C. for layoffs. KDLG’s Daysha Eaton has been following the issue and has part one of a two-part story from Dillingham.

Trapper Creek Mid-Air Crash is Second in Three Weeks

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The fatal mid-air collision over the weekend near Trapper Creek is the second in Alaska in less than a month. A family of four died when their single-engine Cessna 180 floatplane crashed Saturday after hitting another floatplane. The pilot of the other plane was able to make an emergency landing.

In mid July, two small planes collided over Lake Clark Pass. No one was injured in that crash.

A federal accident investigator says both collisions involved planes that were difficult to spot amid mountainous backgrounds. Now the FAA is planning to hold safety meetings with pilots on ways to see other aircraft and to be seen.

Drew Hagg is a pilot in Talkeetna who owns Above Alaska Aviation Flight School. He agrees it can be difficult to spot aircraft. And says flying in Alaska is different than the lower 48 because there isn’t much radar coverage:

Bodies of Plane Crash Victims Recovered from Douglas Island

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The bodies of two plane crash victims on Juneau’s Douglas Island have finally been recovered.

Weather cleared enough Friday evening for a helicopter to reach the site of the wrecked fuselage which still held the bodies of Charles Luck and Liping Tang-Luck.

Their Cessna 182 had crashed six days before on Mount Ben Stewart, near the Eaglecrest Ski Area.

A Temsco helicopter with State Troopers on board tried several times last week to access the steep site, but the cloud ceiling was always too low.

Parts from the single-engine plane are scattered over a wide area on the mountain. Now that the bodies have been retrieved, a National Transportation Safety Board crew will attempt to recover all the parts of the plane so it can be reconstructed for the investigation into the cause of the crash.

Charles Luck was a physician’s assistant at the Hoonah Health Clinic. He and his wife were flying from Hoonah to Juneau early on the morning of July 24 when the plane crashed.

B-17 Bomber Remains to be Airlifted from Talkeetna to Ohio

Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Talkeetna

In September 1951, a B-17 bomber crashed north of Talkeetna along the Chulitna River. Bush pilot Cliff Hudson is credited with saving the lives of those on board. The wreckage of that plane is being airlifted out of the wilderness to Talkeetna and will be readied for transport to Ohio to the Champaign Aviation Museum. The working pieces of the Talkeetna wreckage will be used in a restoration project that will result in a flyable B-17.

Polar Bear Researcher Still Waiting on Reason for Suspension

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The scientist who first reported seeing dead polar bears in the waters of the Arctic Ocean says he has still not been told why he’s under investigation. Federal officials issued a brief statement Friday responding to news media accounts about polar bear researcher Chuck Monnett being placed on administrative leave. Coming from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Melissa Schwartz in Washington, the statement denies that Monnett’s 2006 scientific paper that revealed the polar bear deaths, which were likely due to vanishing sea ice, has anything to do with the Inspector General’s investigation that prompted the agency to pull Monett off duty earlier this month and put him on leave a week ago last Monday. Jeff Ruch, of the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, says the statement makes the situation even more mysterious.

The statement also says that all the scientific contracts Monnett was in charge of are being handled by “the highly qualified scientists at BOEMRE.

PEER has filed a complaint on Monnett’s behalf and alleges that Monnett and a co-researcher have been harassed within the agency since before its name was changed from the Minerals Management Service — specifically ever since the paper was published in 2006.

Schwartz says she won’t speak further about the investigation. Her boss, BOEMRE head Michael Bromwich, is already on record as saying his personnel in Alaska should not talk to the news media.

Review Panel Questions Science on Steller Sea Lions

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

For years, scientists and fishermen alike have wondered why the Steller sea lion stock in the western Aleutians continues to shrink. A new report from the States of Alaska and Washington doesn’t definitively answer that question, but it does criticize the federal government’s approach to reviving that population through the closure of commercial fisheries.