The Liberty Gazette
March 2, 2021
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The recent ice storm was not entirely a surprise to me. Since moving here, I’ve noticed that whenever a hurricane hits nearby, the following winter we get at least a little snow.
The fun part was watching neighborhood kids trying to have snowball fights and skidding along the ice-covered streets, possibly for the first time. It brought back memories of some icy flights I’ve made.
Once, while on approach to an airport in Pasco, Washington, the air traffic controller gave us a clearance to land while advising, “Only half of the runway is plowed.” The captain and I each raised an eyebrow. Which half of the runway was still covered in snow? The first half? The last? I radioed, “Okay, do you want to inform us as to which half is plowed?”
With a chuckle, the controller replied, “Oh yeah, I guess that’d be important. The southeast side, the left half.” Meaning we had the full seven-thousand-foot of length to land on, but instead of a 150-foot-wide swath of asphalt, it was now only about 75 feet, with snow piled along both sides. The Learjet’s wingspan was forty feet.
Closer in on the approach, we were able to see the difference in the hue of gray defining the cleared side. After the captain plopped down hard on the crusty-icy surface, he slowed the airplane down well before the end of the runway, which was the only opening in the berm of snow. At five degrees and still snowing heavily, the powdery stuff covered the taxiway. We had to use the taxiway lights sticking up out of it as a guide to stay on the pavement while we taxied to parking. The nose bounced up and down and snow puffs “splashed” off to the side as we crashed through drifts. It felt more like a power boat than a jet.
Years later, I flew a charter out of south Florida after a major blizzard hit the northeast. Our passenger needed to get to a cancer treatment center in Baltimore for surgery, but all the airports around Washington were closed under a heavy blanket of snow. We watched the weather for a window that would allow us to get into an airport in the area. Anticipating one such opportunity, we departed from Fort Lauderdale for Washington Dulles International while arrangements for special ground transport were being made to get our passenger to Baltimore.
The airport opened, but with only one runway cleared. We came out of the clouds a couple miles from the airport in near whiteout conditions. A bright orange Southwest airliner that stood out from the white and gray environment was the only way we could identify it as an airport. We couldn’t even make out the runway, still covered in ice and patchy snow, until we were a half mile from it. The passenger made it to the hospital, and from what I learned later, the operation was a success.
See you next week with a few more snow-blown tales.