Flying into the sun: Experts view eclipse from 38,000 feet

SALEM, Oregon (AP) — With just hours to go before a total solar eclipse would reach the Oregon coast, people were streaming into the fairgrounds in Salem to view the spectacle Monday morning.

The sound of Taiko drummers, part of a pre-eclipse show at the fairgrounds, filled the air. Less than 50 miles (80 kilometers) north in Portland, Oregon, eclipse experts, contest winners, an astronaut and journalists boarded an Alaska Airlines charter flight due to fly two hours southwest to intercept the eclipse about 10 a.m. PDT.

Meanwhile thousands of eclipse tourists gathered in the tiny town of Weiser, Idaho. Among them was Agnese Zalcmane who traveled to the western U.S. from Latvia so she could be in the eclipse’s totality zone and watch as the moon completely covers the sun.

“I know it’s worth it,” Zalcmane told The Idaho Statesman newspaper this weekend after arriving in Weiser. “Ninety-nine percent and 100 percent are totally different things. It’s worth it to go to the path of totality.”

Zalcmane traveled with 21 others from Latvia and said she has seen seven total eclipses in places including Kazakhstan, Australia, Kenya and Indonesia.

At an Oregon State Fairgrounds amphitheater in Salem, Jim Todd warmed up the crowd by explaining what people would see and experience as the moon’s shadow raced over the ground just before totality.

“The world is watching us, folks, because we are going get the first, best show and the weather is gorgeous,” said Todd, the director of space science education for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. “The weather forecast is crystal clear throughout the state.”

At the Portland International Airport, about 100 people boarded Alaska Airlines’ special eclipse chaser charter flight early Monday morning, preparing to watch the total eclipse from 38,000 feet (about 11,582 meters) above the Pacific Ocean.

Alaska Airlines planned the flight’s logistics with help from eclipse chasers since March to intercept totality from the air. The pre-selected position that the flight will intercept totality is about 815 nautical miles to the west-northwest over open water.

Dr. Michael Barrett, a NASA astronaut and medical doctor who has participated in two space missions, told reporters before the flight that the last total eclipse he saw was in 1979 in eastern Washington state.

“That was a push for me toward space,” said Barrett, whose hometown is Camas, Washington state.

This will be the 12th total solar eclipse for Joe Rao, an instructor and lecturer at Hayden Planetarium. He was involved in planning the logistics with Alaska Airlines for an eclipse flight last year and for this year’s special charter flight.

“You will have to see it for yourself to understand how spectacular and how beautiful this sight is,” he said.

The jet will fly away from the mainland to avoid possible aerial gridlock in the eclipse zone as the time of totality gets closer, in case various aircraft decide to take to the air at that time.

The eclipse flight comes more than a year after the airline worked with eclipse enthusiasts and experts and moved the departure time of an Anchorage to Honolulu flight to capture totality about 695 miles (1,120 kilometers) north of Honolulu.

The flight was expected to intercept the eclipse at about 10 a.m. PDT.

The passengers will be able to watch totality from their seats, which is expected to last one minute and 43 seconds before the moon and sun are no longer in alignment and shift back to a shrinking partial eclipse. The flight will then head back to Portland.


Flaccus reported from Salem, Oregon and La Corte reported from Portland International Airport.

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