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Village hosts stranded travelers

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Residents of a tiny village on the windswept tundra of the Alaska Peninsula pitched in to find blankets and food for 220 passengers stranded when their plane made an unscheduled landing.

Delta Flight 79 from Los Angeles to Tokyo landed Friday evening in Cold Bay — and nearly quadrupled the village's population of 65. The MD-11's crew smelled smoke in the cabin, airline spokeswoman Tracey Bowen said.

Cold Bay is about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage and 40 miles from the start of the Aleutian Islands.

The 10,000-foot runway, Alaska's third largest, is a remnant of Cold Bay's days as a key World War II staging area. It is an alternative landing site for the space shuttle, and other aircraft, usually cargo planes, make about one emergency landing there a year.

Emergency medical technician Eric Skansgaard said Cold Bay authorities were notified about 4:45 p.m. Friday. The passengers, mostly Japanese, disembarked an hour later into temperatures in the teens and winds of 30-35 mph.

"We have very possibly the worst weather environment on the planet," Skansgaard said. "We say, 'Even the mud puddles have whitecaps if they don't up and blow away.' "

A caravan of public and private vehicles ferried passengers to the village's two hotels, which usually house 20 guests each but took 40 Friday night.

Another group stayed in Fish and Wildlife Service housing, and the rest spent the night at the Cold Bay School.

"We rounded up all the spare bedding and mattresses that were in the community," said electric utility owner Gary Ferguson.

Skansgaard said passengers stayed up late using the school's phone and Internet lines to send messages. The three-room school serves 14 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Community members provided rice, home-canned salmon, biscuits and bacon for breakfast. Cold Bay Lodge baked about 500 biscuits plus bacon and sausage, and the residents improvised the rest of the meal.

"All the women in the community brought their rice cookers," Skansgaard said.

Cold Bay once had a military population of 30,000. The community numbered 102 in December but a downturn in fishing and the departure of an airline serving the community dropped the population, Skansgaard said.

Delta flew in mechanics to repair a shorted-out ventilation motor, Ferguson said. Passengers reboarded the jet about 9:30 a.m. Saturday for Anchorage, where it left that afternoon for Tokyo.