The yellow helicopter stood out against the bright blue backdrop of the noontime sky.
It dangled a dark blue object and hovered over points on Mount Roberts before emitting a gunshot-like crack that made its way across the channel while the aircraft darted to another point.
“Do you know what that is?” asked Akiko Rotch, who lives near Savikko Park and was taking photos along Sandy Beach on a sunny Thursday afternoon.
The helicopter was carrying a piece of equipment called a DaisyBell.
The loud sounds were explosions generated by ignited gas being directed at snowpacks to help with avalanche mitigation. The system is an addition to the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities’ old method of firing a howitzer cannon at the snowy slopes over Thane Road.
While the DaisyBell has previously been tested, Thursday was the first time the $160,000 piece of equipment has been used in an operation. Ultimately, the DaisyBell is expected to be more cost effective in the long run because each DaisyBell shot costs about $5 and personnel with gunner certifications aren’t needed for missions.
No large avalanches were triggered, according to a report shared by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, but the system worked perfectly, and valuable site-specific information was gained that will be useful in future missions.
Rotch said she had no idea the hazard-reduction mission would be happening when she left the house.
“This is a lucky accident,” Rotch said while pointing her lens at the helicopter. “We used to have a dog, and it hated this kind of noise and vibration.”
While the shots could be heard on the beach across the channel from the mountain, they were quieter than cannon fire that previously signaled avalanche mitigation.
The sounds did not seem to disturb the several dogs taking afternoon strolls on the beach.
Those included an 8-week-old sheep dog-poodle mix named Zella.
“Those don’t seem to bother her,” said Henson Germain, who walked near the scampering pooch.
Germain said Zella is too young for him to know if fireworks or other loud sounds upset the dog, but the vacuum doesn’t seem to provoke nerves. Neither did the DaisyBell, but it did cause Germain to pause for a moment and look up.
“It’s interesting how they’re doing it,” Germain said.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.