The Russian Mission airstrip should be fully functional again as soon as Tuesday afternoon. Over the weekend, a group of young children smashed more than 50 runway lights in a single evening, destroying the lighting system. That meant no planes could land after dark, including medevacs.
Jim Duffy maintains the Russian Mission runway for the Alaska Department of Transportation. He says that, thankfully, no flights have been canceled because of the damage. And if a medevac needed to fly in, he says that he would do what was done 30 years ago. "Use a coffee can with a roll of toilet paper and diesel in it," Duffy said. "It'll burn 45 minutes to an hour."
According to Duffy, there was “nothing malicious” about this vandalism. It was “just bored kids, little kids, six to nine years old.”
There were four of them, and Duffy has talked to most of the parents. He knows that one child is grounded.
Duffy calls replacing destroyed runway lights “routine.” This time of year, during breakup, the runway apron, where planes park, is the only dry place in town. After planes are done flying, kids go there to play baseball or capture-the-flag. He says that often some lights get smashed.
Duffy is used to changing about 25 lights a year. To have to replace more than twice that amount from a single spree, Duffy calls “really bad.” He says that the kids are usually good about policing themselves.
The cost to replace the lights is about $1,000.
The Russian Mission school is using the incident as a teachable moment. The school counselor, along with a couple high school students, is talking with classrooms on Tuesday about how smashing the lights affects the entire community.