Story updated at 4:40 p.m.
A Delta flight traveling from Tokyo to San Francisco made an emergency stop in the remote community of Cold Bay on Wednesday.
Delta’s Boeing 767 jet experienced engine problems early in the morning. A Delta spokesman wouldn’t say exactly what went wrong, but a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman told KTUU that the pilots saw a warning on their electronic engine controls.
Cold Bay’s airport is a designated diversion spot for trans-Pacific flights, so the pilots decided to land there.
Catherine Bland works at the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Cold Bay. She says that she heard a loud jet engine around 6 a.m, followed by a flurry of activity on the runway.
“I thought, ‘What’s going on out there?’ And I looked and I see the Delta plane sitting on the tarmac,” Bland says. “Then when I came into work, we started getting requests for help,” Bland said.
Deputy refuge manager Leticia Melendez says Izembek’s goal – and the goal of the village — was to put Delta’s 178 passengers and crew at ease.
“Our role is to do as much as we can to minimize their discomfort,” Melendez said. “We’re helping with security and trying to take the edge off what could have been a big disaster.”
The travelers spent six hours on board the plane before Delta let them off to stretch their legs. The airport is only a five- or 10-minute walk from the refuge, but the passengers weren’t allowed to stray that far.
“Let me tell you, the little kid in me got excited and thought, ‘Oh! They get to see the refuge!'” Melendez said. “But that’s just a little reaction because I get excited about these things, just as much as anybody who has a passion for exposing the wonders of nature.”
Instead, passengers spent time at Cold Bay’s community center and gym and other spots around town.
Delta finally sent a replacement jet to Cold Bay Wednesday afternoon with a Transportation Security Administration team and Customs staff on board, to screen passengers. The flight departed around 3 p.m. Alaska time.
But some Delta employees were expected to stick around Cold Bay a little longer.
Mary Martin owns and operates the Cold Bay Lodge, a small hotel. She says Delta reserved rooms for its maintenance and cockpit crews, who are coming to town to fix the disabled jet.
Martin says there’s not much to see in the town of Cold Bay – just a few houses and a school. But the airstrip provides the most intrigue.
“We have an interesting airport,” Martin said. “We go from 60 [people] to quadruple our population in a minute’s notice, depending on the aircraft and what’s on board.”
Exactly what happened on board is still under investigation. The NTSB will be looking into the engine issue, along with Delta Airlines.