After the Unalaska plane crash upended their swim meet, locals volunteered and the high school team swam anyway

The 2019 Unalaska Raider Swim Team. (Courtesy image via KUCB)

Pre-meet excitement turned quickly to adrenaline when the plane carrying a visiting Cordova swim team ran off the runway at Unalaska’s airport on Thursday, Oct. 17.

Though the swimmers suffered no critical physical injuries, concern for their mental health took priority. They stayed the night at Alexandria House, and Unalaska’s swim team and other community members provided clothes and comfort. The Cordova team flew home the next day on a chartered flight to be with their families.

As attention turned to the wellbeing of Unalaska’s passengers and community, there was uncertainty about whether there would be a swim meet at all. Finally, the news spread that the meet would go on without Cordova. Unalaska’s swimmers would compete against themselves in hopes of improving their personal times.

Read more about the 2019 PenAir crash in Unalaska

Community members were also invited to swim in the meet. The wrestling team, which was unable to travel to its own meet off-island due to the plane accident, would compete as well. Soon others were organizing relay teams and volunteering to swim.

The atmosphere before the meet was electric. Music blasted as swimmers taught their classmates how to dive off the block and make turns. Community swimmers gathered to organize relay teams. The meet was kicked off by social studies teacher Ryan Humphrey, who introduced the Raiders. The natatorium echoed with applause as seniors Sasha Rankin and Kayla Villamor slid down the slide and shared their favorite senior memories.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better atmosphere for my senior night,” Rankin said,

For the first event, a 200 medley relay, community swimmers bravely climbed on blocks and sprung into the pool. The swim team pushed themselves to break their season best times with the encouragement of their peers.

“I thought it was really sweet how everybody came together to support us,” said Freshman Karina Villamor.

Though the community swimmers were only expected to do relays and short races, the lanes were filled every race. They even organized a 10-person tag team to swim the grueling 500 freestyle, which amounts to 10 laps. The night ended in a fun rock-paper-scissors relay and a group photo.