Shemya Island is normally an obscure location in the far reaches of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, site of Eareckson Air Station, and notable for being the most eastern landing facility in the United States by longitude and being very close to Russia. Although the military airport has no scheduled commercial service it plays a key role for commerical airlines as an alternate airport for flights which encounter trouble over the North Pacific and must divert to a suitable landing site.
Shemya made the news on Christmas Eve when Delta Air Lines flight 128 from Beijing to Seattle, operated with a Boeing 767-332ER (N1612T), diverted to Shemya in response to a potential engine issue and landed shortly after midnight local time. A replacement aircraft (N1603) was dispatched from Seattle and the 194 passengers arrived about 11 hours late. The original aircraft continued to Seattle the next day and returned to service.
About 3.5 years ago, on 29 July 2015, a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER flying from Hong Kong to Los Angeles after the crew detected smoke. That was just over five years since the previous diversion, another 777 operating American Airlines fligt 175 from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Tokyo (Narita), which diverted in response to a fire indication in the aft cargo hold.
Although commericial aircraft visits to Shemya are newsworthy rarities today, Northwest Orient Airlines (since merged with Delta) leased the airport in 1956 for use as a fuel stop on the North Pacific route from Seattle and Anchorage to Toyko. These were purely technical stops and were not shown in the airline's timetables other than on route maps.
Reeve Aleutian Airways and its predecessors had already been serving Shemya, first with Douglas DC-3 aircraft starting in late 1946, then with the Douglas DC-4 beginning 12 March 1957. By the late 1970s, Reeve Aleutian was serving Shemya with Lockheed L-188 Electras.
Today's Featured Map shows Delta's modern non-stop (usually!) between Beijing and Seattle, with thinner red lines showing the historical Northwest Orient fuel stops at Shemya. Reeve Aleutian's DC-4 island hopper from Anchorage to Attu, including a stop at Shemya, is shown in blue.
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Karl L. Swartz.
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