Residents of a remote village in southwest Alaska united on Friday night to light up a runway with their vehicles, enabling a medical plane to land safely.
The LifeMed Alaska medevac plane needed to pick up a child in Igiugig who required medical assistance and transport to a hospital in Anchorage, about 280 miles to the northeast.
The runway lights on Igiugig’s small airport had been damaged in February due to a snow removal contractor and could not be turned on. Ida Nelson, a tribal clerk and newsletter editor for the village council, jumped into action.
Nelson lit up the runway with her all-terrain vehicle headlights so the plane could land, and Nelson’s neighbor made 32 calls requesting assistance. At least 20 residents ― many of whom were wearing pajamas ― showed up in their vehicles to also light the runway.
“That’s pretty much almost every household in this village,” Nelson 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 girl requiring medical care was safely transported to Anchorage, and Nelson told CNN that Igiugig coming together was a matter of course.
“It’s an ordinary thing to happen here in such a small community,” she said. “And what I’m finding out is that it’s extraordinary to other people.”
A photo snapped by Nelson shows the vehicle headlights from the ground, while the LifeMed Alaska Facebook page shared a glimpse of the view from above, praising Igiugig for “a little ingenuity and a lot of determination.”
In 2015, the village received over $850,000 from the U.S. Administration for Native Americans for a Yup’ik language program aimed at keeping the linguistic culture of the region alive. And last month, the village was highlighted in an article by the coastal community publication Hakai Magazine as one of several towns that “not only care for their own [but] provide a sense of identity to the growing number of rural Alaskans who have relocated to urban areas.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article indicated that Nelson called for assistance in lighting the runway. Her neighbor was the one who made the calls.