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Flight diverted from Medford because of smoke

Wildfire smoke blanketing the state from the California border to the Columbia River put a crimp into air travel Tuesday afternoon.

An Alaska Airlines flight from Portland to Medford had to turn around minutes before it was scheduled to touch down in the Rogue Valley.

The pilot aboard Alaska flight 2202, due to land at 4:23 p.m., told passengers dense smoke from wildfires reduced visibility to less than a half mile at the Medford airport. The flight with 76 passengers and a crew of four returned to Portland International Airport, landing about 5:15 p.m. Passengers were reticketed for later flights, and a 6:36 p.m. Alaska flight out of Portland departed and landed in Medford on time.

Scott Baker of Gold Hill was one of the dozens of passengers queued up where Alaska's Q400s park at the Portland airport. Given the decaying visibility even in Portland, he said the passengers took it all in stride.

"It is what it is," Baker said. "There isn't anything we can do about it, we can't say, 'land the damn thing.'"

Ashland resident Don Senter has dealt with fog delays, but the smokeout was a new experience.

"They told us we could not land, and they turned around about three-quarters of the way," Senter said. "We had to circle here (in Portland) once while the firefighters landed."

Medford airport Director Bern Case said it's the only smoke-related cancellation so far.

"There was an earlier cancellation, but it was pretty clear here at the time. I believe it was due to a pilot shortage or crew issue."

Case said that all the planes that overnight in Medford arrived Tuesday and all Wednesday morning flights departed without a hitch.

"I didn't see any angry people standing around when I came to work this morning," Case said.

The opaque skies, however, remained intact.

"It's sort of like fog season, but there's not much we can do about it," Case said. "When I can't see Coker Butte out my window, I know it's bad. But I do see the immigration building across the airport and that means we have three-eighths-of-a-mile visibility. Most commercial airlines can operate with that much visibility, although Allegiant might be an exception."

While fire operations have been continual, general aviation has essentially been non-existent.

"The little guys enjoy flying around and looking at the world," Case said. "But looking through this muck is not very exciting."

 — Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.