Holiday travelers share stories of volcanoes, raw turkeys and waylaid relatives

As the holiday season is upon us, people who leave town or receive visitors are hoping for an easy, breezy ride. No overheads or ferry breakdowns.

But it doesn’t always go that way.

Residents were happy to share their holiday travel stories, from heartwarming to humorous.

Brittani Robbins, executive director

of the Wrangell Chamber of Commerce

In 2013, her grandmother Marian Robbins, in her 70s at the time, came to visit for Christmas from Tacoma, Washington. There had been a blizzard the day before and she overheaded Wrangell to Ketchikan. Josie Olsen, who works at Stikine Drug, was on the same flight and found Robbins sobbing in the Ketchikan airport, not knowing what to do or how to pay for it — she had never managed her money well. Olsen and her husband took her in to stay at their hotel room.

“My grandma called and asked, ‘Who is this person?’” said Robbins. “We said, ‘She’s great, just go!’”

Olsen had never met the grandmother before, and didn’t know she was related to Brittani Robbins. “She took her in and said, ‘I got you, we’re going to make this work,’” the younger Robbins said.

Olsen’s husband, who has since passed away, would say, “Marian, you doing OK?” Robbins recalled. Several times a night, Olsen and her husband checked to make sure grandma was all right.

And since then, every time Robbins would see Olsen, she said, Olsen would ask, ‘How is grandma?’” And continued to ask until her grandmother passed away.

That is the friendliness of Wrangell, Robbins said.

Jenn Miller-Yancey,

assistant principal

at Evergreen Elementary School

In December 1989, while attending the University of Portland in Oregon, Miller-Yancey and her best friend made plans to travel with Miller-Yancey’s boyfriend, who would later become her husband.

“At that time you had to fly out of Portland at 5 a.m., get to Seattle, get a connecting flight. My friend, we picked her up at 3:30 a.m. We were running late and she hadn’t even packed yet.”

They threw some things in a bag. She was “not feeling very well” and they couldn’t move her. They were able to put her in their tiny little rental car and prop her up. She started reviving and said she was hungry, so they ripped into a McDonald’s drive-thru.

“We barely make it to check-in,” Miller-Yancey recalled. Then the plane was delayed, and the power went out at the airport. They missed the connecting flight in Seattle to Wrangell.

“But you can do the Juneau route, but it’s full. We can’t get on it. We're like, OK, our next option is Ketchikan.”

They get to Ketchikan and ended up chartering a plane to Wrangell. They went to the Alaska Airlines terminal in Wrangell to retrieve their luggage, but turns out the bags went to Juneau.

“They can’t find it. It’s not in the next day. We’re like, OK, this isn’t good. We checked back the third day. We had no clothes or anything. We went to Angerman’s and bought sweatpants and sweatshirts to hold us over. They finally tracked our bags. In Portland, instead of getting tagged to Wrangell, our bags got tagged to Juneau. That plane didn’t make it to Juneau at all. The bags ended up in Anchorage, and a volcano erupted.”

The eruption of Mt. Redoubt shut down all air traffic for days. “We got our bags the same day we were leaving back to Portland. They came in in the morning, and we rechecked the bags without even opening them. We wore sweatpants and sweatshirts for the entire 11 days.”

Janell Roberts Privett,

who grew up in Wrangell

Her brother Darin was born Nov. 25, 1969, and had Rh incompatibility with his mother’s blood. He was born in Portland and had to have blood transfusions before returning home to Wrangell.

Privett was 10 years old. Her brother Doug was 9 years old at the time. They were bummed they couldn’t go to their grandparents in Ketchikan for Christmas that year. Darin was healthy and doing good in Wrangell until Christmas Eve. Then he started changing color. The family got him to the hospital and the doctors said he had to be flown to Ketchikan for treatment. As soon as it was light, they chartered a flight with Stikine Air.

Chuck Traylor flew the family and the raw turkey her mom had put out to thaw on Christmas Day. Traylor was a great pilot with a great sense of humor, Privett said. “He was concerned about my brother.”

To keep her and her brother Doug occupied, Traylor told the kids to look out the window for Santa. And when they said they didn’t see him, he said to look faster next time.

Darin went in for 28 days of blood transfusions, Privett said, and she and her brother ended up having a longer Christmas with their grandparents and aunts and uncles in Ketchikan.


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