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Airframes Alaska, Palmer airport hit hard during southcentral Alaska wind event

A severe windstorm damaged a wall and portion of roofing at Airframes Alaska’s main manufacturing facility in Palmer, Alaska. The event left thousands without power in near zero-degree temperatures in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Airframes Alaska.

An extreme wind event, which prompted a disaster declaration and shelter-in-place order, tore through the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in southcentral Alaska over the weekend, leaving 22,000 households without power.

The Anchorage Daily News reported wind gusts of up to 88 mph that ripped through buildings, flipped tractor trailers, and at the Palmer Municipal Airport, left at least five aircraft destroyed.

Pilot and aircraft owner Don Hammond of Fly Around Alaska, who spoke to the Anchorage Daily News, often patrols the Warren “Bud” Woods Palmer Municipal Airport when he sees storms on the radar.

While on patrol, Hammond witnessed multiple aircraft and hangars taking damage, including his Piper PA–32 Cherokee Six, which he used for his now shuttered flightseeing operation, upended by the estimated 110- to 120-mph winds recorded on his handheld wind meter.

As things started to deteriorate, Hammond put out the call for help on social media. The call was answered by several good Samaritans who helped secure aircraft and provide large vehicles to shelter airplanes from the wind.

Pilots and aircraft owners on the ramp were not the only ones feeling the sting of this catastrophic wind event. Airframes Alaska, famous for fabricating bush airplane parts and other backcountry essentials, is picking up the pieces after its main manufacturing facility lost a wall and a portion of the roof during the weekend storm. Airframes Alaska opened its main campus, located about one mile from the Palmer airport, in late 2019/early 2020.

“The last few days have been a good reminder that Alaska can be a challenging partner for any business. It also has reiterated to me how resourceful the Alaskan spirit is as I watch friends, partners and employees rally to find solutions to weather, water and glacial dust in our factory,” Airframes Alaska CEO Sean McLaughlin wrote to AOPA on January 6. “No matter what we do, we are going to be 2-4 weeks behind on deliveries. If someone has an AOG emergency, we will, of course, find a way of getting them the part. But our shipping department in Palmer, Alaska—as of last night—was frozen solid under a layer of ice.”

Adam White, a flight instructor, A&P, and head of the Alaska Airmen’s Association Government and Legislative Affairs program, shared his insights in the aftermath with AOPA: “It was interesting to see how the pilot and surrounding community have come together to help others at the airport. It was a great community effort.” As for lessons to be learned, White had a few suggestions for aircraft owners: “Pilots should not trust tie-down rings, they are not designed to withstand the kind of abuse seen here. Ropes make a huge difference.” White cautioned against using ratchet straps to secure aircraft, suggesting instead that owners opt for climbing rope and tie a good knot.

As of January 5, about 2,000 households were still without power. A Special Weather Statement warned of continued high winds wind chill values as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit below zero to continue into the weekend.

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