PILOTS flying in and out of America’s northern-most city of Utqiagvik at the top of Alaska and beyond the Arctic Circle, are used to be being warned by air traffic controllers on the ground of “low ceilings” – aviation-speak for low cloud and poor visibility.
But they got warning late last month of a different kind of “low sealing” when controllers were forced to close the airport to landings and take-offs… because of a 200kg seal that had clambered out of the ocean adjacent to the airport, and flopped in the middle of Utqiagvik’s runway for an impromptu autumn sunbake.
Airport foreman Scott Babcock came upon the seal in a warm patch of sunlight on the runway that was being cleared of snow from an earlier fall. After he radioed air traffic controllers they closed the runway, and had specialist wildlife officers come with snow-blowers to “coax” the seal onto a sled, which they then towed off to the open sea.
Utqiagvik was previously known as Barrow and is home to one of the northern-most communities in the world. Its airport is officially named the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport after the famed American aviator Post, who was the first person to fly solo around the world, and his friend Rogers, a popular American actor, humourist and author.
Sadly both died in 1935 when their small float plane stalled and plunged back into a lagoon they were taking off from, 25km south of Barrow, after they’d become disoriented and landed on the lagoon to seek directions from locals to the Arctic outpost.