Attacks, development plans, paintball shootings mark Alaska in 2001

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The year 2001 will be remembered in America for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and in Alaska for the ripples they caused -- soldiers at airports, heightened alerts at military bases, an outpouring of red, white and blue on lapels, pickup trucks and holiday displays.

Alaskans wept, mourned and reflected, then held their breath as airmen and Air National Guard personnel were called to active duty on missions overseas.

Within the state, tragedy struck on the high seas, on the highways and on the runways.

A petty criminal was charged with causing a million-dollar oil spill and a deranged slasher cut four children at an elementary school in Anchorage.

A teen-age driver killed four people when he crashed into a patrol car. Three other teens stalked Alaska Natives with a paintball gun.

As has been the case for decades, events and decisions elsewhere shaped Alaska news in 2001.

Skies were quiet for two days as federal regulators ordered all aircraft grounded Sept. 11 following the terrorist attacks. Stranded hunters and guides became some of the last people on the planet to find out that thousands of Americans had died or been injured in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Security increased at Alaska's most apparent target for terrorism, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. A road checkpoint was re-established on the Dalton Highway. The Alaska Travel Industry Association, citing a drop in tourism reservations, asked state government for a $12.5 million advertising blitz.

The attacks were just one Outside event with repercussions for Alaska. Decision-makers elsewhere also held the promise of a building boom.

The Department of Defense in August awarded a contract worth nearly $5 million to a Point Hope Native corporation subsidiary, Aqlaq Construction Enterprises, to prepare Fort Greely to become a national missile defense test site. A defense spending bill approved by Congress this month included $7.9 billion for missile defense. U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said he expects work on five missile silos to begin next summer at Fort Greely, as well as work on a radar installation at Shemya.

Promoters of a natural gas line ended the year with less optimism as three major oil companies wrapped up spending $100 million to determine its feasibility. BP's gas expert told the Resource Development Council in November that the project does not make economic sense now. A formal report is expected in February or March.

With strong backing from labor unions, U.S. Rep. Don Young in August helped win House approval of an energy bill that included a go-ahead to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But the Senate grounded ANWR development when Democratic leaders chose not to act on a comprehensive energy bill.

The year had no shortage of tragedy.

On April 2, the 92-foot Arctic Rose sank suddenly in the Bering Sea 775 miles southwest of Anchorage. All 15 men on board died. It was the worst U.S. commercial fishing disaster in 50 years. In July, Coast Guard investigators located the wreckage and attempted to film it using a camera on a remotely operated submersible. That effort ended when the cable controlling the vehicle became tangled in lines from the fishing boat and snapped. Investigators returned a month later and recorded 45 minutes of video of the doomed vessel.

Alaska's deadliest aircraft accident in 14 years killed 10. A PenAir Cessna 208 Caravan took off from Dillingham Oct. 10 and then nose-dived about a half-mile from the runway's end, killing all on board. Nine were board members, employees or members of the Bristol Bay Native Association.

Anchorage Police Officer Justin Wollam died July 9 when his patrol car was rammed head-on by suspected drunk driver Robert Esper, 19, driving on the wrong side of the multilane Glenn Highway. Esper and passengers Makayla Lewis, 16, and Heidi Weilbacher, 14, also were killed.

On May 7, a man with a lengthy history of mental illness used a fillet knife to slash four children at Mountain View Elementary School in Anchorage. Jason Pritchard, 34, was arrested after police shot him with bean bag-type projectiles. He pleaded no contest to two counts of attempted murder in October and is to be sentenced in March.

Violence also caused environmental damage.

Starting On Oct. 4, 285,600 gallons of crude oil sprayed out of a bullet hole in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline 75 miles north of Fairbanks, near Livengood. Daniel Carson Lewis, 37, who has a history of assault, theft, driving while intoxicated and burglary convictions, was charged with firing a .338-caliber rifle at the pipeline. His trial is scheduled for early 2002, long before the spill is cleaned up. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. initially estimated cleanup costs at $3 million, but chief executive David Wright said the final number would be two to four times higher.

Two unscheduled jet landings made news.

In March, the population of Cold Bay nearly quadrupled when a Delta Airlines jet landed in the Alaska Peninsula community. The flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo carried 220 passengers plus a crew. Nearly all of the 65 Cold Bay residents pitched in to feed and house the passengers while their aircraft was repaired.

A month later, two Buckley, Mich., twin sisters on their way to a modeling competition in China disrupted a United Airlines flight and the crew diverted the jet to Anchorage. Cynthia Mikula pleaded guilty to interfering with a flight crew, a felony. She was sentenced to five years probation, $86,774.92 in restitution, and 231 hours of community service -- one hour for every other passenger on board. Crystal Mikula pleaded guilty to simple assault and was sentenced to two years probation, a $500 fine and 231 hours of community service.

Three Eagle River teen-agers thrust Alaska into national news when they assaulted Alaska Natives and at least one white woman with a paintball gun Jan. 14. Anchorage police used their videotape of the assault to prosecute them and identify victims.

Two of the teens were referred to juvenile authorities. The only adult, Charles Deane Wiseman, who had moved to Alaska less than one month before, pleaded no contest to three counts of misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to six months in jail, a $6,000 fine and 300 hours of community service.

Native Alaskan leaders said the incident reflected ongoing racism and called for an investigation of racial disparities in the state. Gov. Tony Knowles responded by appointing a Commission on Tolerance that prepared recommendations for countering racism. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights also took testimony on racism in Alaska.

Alaska legislators had a relatively quiet session. They voted to build three new rural schools, design a fourth, and make major repairs at 32 others. To the relief of many high school juniors and seniors, they delayed implementing exit exams for two years.

Legislators also bumped up education spending, lowered the threshold for a presumption of drunken driving and limited the sewage and other wastewater that giant cruise ships can discharge.

In the courts, Gov. Tony Knowles in August announced that he would not appeal the Katie John subsistence case to the United States Supreme Court, ending a 10-year legal fight that has pitted Alaska Natives against states-rights advocates. The case established that the federal government has authority on most waters in Alaska to ensure subsistence rights for rural residents and greatly expanded the geographic scope of the federal government's authority in Alaska.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by Greenpeace and a group of North Slope Natives who argued that the Environmental Impact Statement for BP's Northstar oil field was inadequate. Northstar began pumping oil Oct. 31.

Still hanging in the state Superior Court is a challenge to the state's redistricting plan. Alaska Republicans call the plan blatantly partisan and are among the communities and private individuals seeking to have it changed.

Alaska lost notable citizens in 2001.

Former Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz, who helped shape the fundamental principles of Alaska law, died June 16.

Two architects of the Alaska Permanent Fund died: Former House Speaker Hugh Malone, a Democrat who represented the Kenai Peninsula, and Oral Freeman, a Democrat from Ketchikan.

Former University of Alaska President William R. Wood, who oversaw a building boom at the UA Fairbanks campus and the expansion of the system to Anchorage and Juneau, died in Fairbanks, as did environmental pioneer and champion Celia Hunter.

Among the others passing: Maj. Gen. Edward Pagano, the first Native Alaskan adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard; Robert Louis Whelan, retired bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks, who served in Fairbanks for nearly five decades; and former state Sen. Fred Zharoff, who represented Kodiak for nearly two decades.

In sports, 2,400 athletes and coaches poured into Anchorage for the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games; tiny Kodiak won the state high school boys' basketball championship under the leadership of Coach Amy Rakers, who in 1995 had become the first female head coach of a boy's basketball team; and Montanan Doug Swingley continued his domination of the Iditarod with his fourth victory, including three in a row.

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