Sixteen Medevacs Follow One-Year Anniversary of Interior Secretary’s Rejection of King Cove’s Life-Saving Road
December 23, 2014
The Coast Guard medevaced a 58 year-old fisherman after he severely injured his eye while aboard a Seattle-based processor on March 31,2014. High winds prevented travel by commercial planes.
King Cove, AK – Dec. 23, 2014 – One year ago today, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell shattered the dreams of the remote Alaska town of King Cove when she rejected a massive land exchange that would have granted them access to a small life-saving road corridor connecting them to the nearby all-weather Cold Bay Airport. Since that time, it has been business as usual for Secretary Jewell in Washington, D.C., however, it has been anything but that for the mostly Aleut (Alaska Native) people of King Cove. Sixteen people in the isolated coastal town needing urgent medical care were medevaced to Anchorage hospitals during the past year.
“Secretary Jewell probably hasn’t given it a second thought when she decided that protecting the lives of birds in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was more important than defending the lives of human beings needing emergency care,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove (Native) Corporation. “However, we continue to live in fear every day that one of our sick elders, our children or a neighbor suffering from a life-threatening injury may not make it because they’re unable to access emergency medical care in time.”
Of the sixteen medevacs that occurred this year, six were conducted by the Coast Guard because harsh weather prevented travel between King Cove and Cold Bay’s all-weather airport. The latest Coast Guard medevac involved an 84 year-old man on October 16th who was very ill while suffering from sepsis.
“We are fortunate that our brave Coast Guard personnel are willing to risk their lives to save those who need urgent care,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. “However, those of us who live here know there have been times when even the Coast Guard was delayed several hours because of dangerous weather, including hurricane-force winds. We have to have another way to get to the Cold Bay Airport that won’t put so many lives at risk.”
During 2014, several patients had to wait overnight at the King Cove Clinic, up to 14 hours, until the weather improved and allowed travel by plane. One man, sufferingThe Coast Guard conducted two medevacs on March 11, 2014. One involved fisherman Walter Wilson, Jr., 33, who dislocated both hips and fractured his pelvis after a 600-pound cod pot fell on him. The second medevac involved Wilson’s infant son, who was later diagnosed with RSV. Both occurred during blizzard conditions.from an apparent heart attack last spring, was medevaced aboard a Coastal freight boat from King Cove to Cold Bay. No other planes or boats were traveling because of high winds and stormy seas.
“No one should have to wait several hours to be medevaced or endure a long, uncomfortable boat ride while struggling with serious health care issues that could claim a life at any moment,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “We only ask that Secretary Jewell find it in her heart to have some compassion for the people of King Cove and reconsider her decision. The 16 people who were medevaced were fortunate to survive. Our greatest fear is that soon, despite doing everything we can to get medical attention, we might not be so lucky.”
(To view a video of a Coast Guard medevac from Feb. 14, 2014 during whiteout conditions, visit this link).
The people of King Cove have battled for more than three decades to get a life-saving road corridor linking the isolated community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport, located just 25 miles away. The small stretch of road needed (approximately 9 miles) would connect to existing roads in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road would provide reliable and safe transportation to medevac seriously ill or injured patients during frequent periods of harsh weather when travel by plane or boat is too dangerous.
The Coast Guard conducted two medevacs on March 11, 2014. One involved fisherman Walter Wilson, Jr., 33, who dislocated both hips and fractured his pelvis after a 600-pound cod pot fell on him. The second medevac involved Wilson’s infant son, who was later diagnosed with RSV. Both occurred during blizzard conditions.
In 2009, Congress and the President approved the road and a massive land swap (61,000 acres from the State and the King Cove Corporation) in exchange for a small single-lane gravel road corridor to the nearby all-weather Cold Bay Airport. Following an environmental impact statement, which King Cove residents believe is biased, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected the road and land exchange just two days before Christmas last year. On June 4, 2014, King Cove tribes, the corporation, the city and the Aleutians East Borough sued Jewell and other federal officials over the EIS and the road issue.