Friendship Flight : Tony Circles the Globe : Tony Braces in Soviet Far East for a 1,000-Mile Leg
Tony Aliengena reached the Soviet Far East’s largest northern port Tuesday but braced for one of the most crucial legs on his round-the-world flight, as he moved closer to Alaska and U.S. re-entry.
The 11-year-old San Juan Capistrano boy negotiated 312 miles of Pacific coastline to bring his single-engine Cessna to a safe landing at the airport outside Magadan, a fishing port of 185,000 people normally closed to foreigners.
After resting on a one-day stopover, Tony is scheduled to climb back into the cockpit Thursday for a 1,000-mile flight to Anadyr, covering some of the Soviet Far East’s most desolate terrain.
With just one gravel airfield between those two coastal ports, Tony will be relying on the 1,500-mile range of his Cessna 210 Centurion to carry him safely over the mountains and dense forests.
The route has a reputation for danger--many U.S. and Soviet military fliers crashed there while ferrying planes between Alaska and the Soviet Union during World War II.
The problem with flying in the region is that fog and stormy weather can move in at any time, shrouding airstrips and making mountain peaks hard to see, said Boris Nikolaevitch, a journalist in the small Pacific village of Okhotsk, where Tony spent his first night in the Soviet Far East on Monday.
“The Far East has very, very savage weather,” Nikolaevitch said.
On Tony’s 500-mile flight Monday from the eastern Siberian capital of Yakutsk to Okhotsk, weather was not a factor. Other than low-lying clouds over the ocean, weather was also not a problem for Tuesday’s 312-mile leg between Okhotsk and Magadan.
The weather on the remaining 1,200 miles through the Soviet Union remains a question mark, however. A team of Alaskan scientists visiting Magadan told Tony’s entourage that dense fog had blanketed Providenia for the entire week they stayed there on a U.S.-Soviet archeological expedition. After Anadyr, Tony is scheduled to fly Friday to Providenia, a small fishing village at the Soviet Union’s northeastern tip.
He is scheduled Saturday to cross the Bering Strait and re-enter the United States at Nome, Alaska.
If Tony was feeling anxiety about the upcoming legs to Alaska, he was not showing it this week. “It’s not dangerous,” Tony said in Okhotsk, where hundreds of local residents applauded when he landed.
Tony has received large, enthusiastic receptions all across the Soviet Union, but the one in Okhotsk was frenzied. Children thrust flowers and pens at him and adults burst into wild applause.
Even the Red Army contributed. Uniformed troops used their amphibious assault vehicles to ferry Tony and his entourage across the mile-wide Kuhtuy River to Okhotsk, which can be reached only by ferry because the ever-changing river bottom cannot support a bridge.
The entire town seemed to turn out, as a crowd of hundreds of men, women and children riding bicycles, motorbikes and walking trailed Tony and his entourage from a cafe--where they dined on salmon, redfish and reindeer tongue--to the local museum, where they were given a look at the region’s colorful history.
Role in Bering’s Discoveries
The museum director, Yevgeniy Morokov, said Okhotsk (which means hunting place ) was the port from which 18th-Century explorer Vitus Bering sailed to Alaska, thus becoming the first European to discover the strait that bears his name.
The museum also featured wildlife specimens from the surrounding wilderness, where bears and wolves still prowl in such large numbers that outdoors enthusiasts are advised to carry firearms.
Asked by the museum director to write a message in a book where the town’s historical documents are kept, Tony’s father wrote: “Your history will be in our hearts forever.”
Morokov then reached into his pocket and gave Tony a 3,000-year-old Indian arrowhead. Then he presented Tony’s 10-year-old sister, Alaina, with seven precious stones found 200 years ago in Okhotsk.
Morokov said the seven stones symbolized happiness, and he urged Alaina to make a necklace out of them.
Outside the museum, the town’s residents waited patiently for Tony to finish the tour. Eighth-grader Aleksie Manohin said he had been anticipating Tony’s visit for a month.
A Wish for Good Health
“Very good, it’s very interesting,” Manohin said in awkward English. When asked what he had to say to Americans, the student blushed and said, “I wish them health, very big health.”
Nikolaevitch said Tony is a curiosity because normally the region is closed not only to foreigners but to outside Soviet residents as well, primarily because of its closeness to Japan and the United States.
Although the village’s streets are worn and rutted, and many of the homes are clapboard shacks with outhouses, the residents earn a much higher salary than counterparts in such big cities as Moscow and Leningrad. Nikolaevitch, for instance, makes 500 rubles a month, while a journalist in Moscow may earn just half of that.
In Magadan, the salmon fishing is legendary. One of the first orders of business for Tony’s party was to arrange for an early morning fishing outing Wednesday. The rest of the group planned a tour of Magadan, where fog rolls in off the Pacific virtually every afternoon, even though the city is 30 miles inland.
Apart from fishing, Magadan is also well known in the Soviet Union for it prisons, said Aleksie Grinevich, a Moscow journalist accompanying Tony on his trip.
Center for Stalinist Executions
During the more restrictive Stalin era, he said, hundreds of thousands of Soviet dissidents were taken to Magadan for mass execution.
“There are many, many prison songs in the Soviet Union written about Magadan,” Grinevich said.
Local Magadan officials greeting Tony at the airport said nothing about the area’s notorious prison history. Instead, they scheduled a visit to a Young Pioneers camp and invited the Americans to stay in town until this weekend, when Magadan’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated with music and dance.
Tony politely declined.
“In the Soviet Union,” he said, “we have been to so many great places that if we had extended our stay we would never have gotten home.”