Former North Shore hockey star is now a cable flierJim Tweto said he never even thought of flying a plane when living in Silver Bay, but now it’s an everyday occurrence in front of a national audience. Discovery Channel recently started running the show “Flying Wild Alaska” at 8 p.m. Fridays featuring the Tweto family.
Jim Tweto said he never even thought of flying a plane when living in Silver Bay, but now it’s an everyday occurrence in front of a national audience.
Discovery Channel recently started running the show “Flying Wild Alaska” at 8 p.m. Fridays featuring the Tweto family. The first show aired Jan. 14. New episodes are expected to run Saturday nights through March 19.
The show focuses on Tweto operating his family-run airline, Era Alaska, battling treacherous weather, and terrain. Tweto’s business transports necessities to remote areas in Alaska. His wife and two daughters help with the operation. His brother, Bruce, also from Silver Bay, helps with the company.
“I’ve been just the luckiest guy,” Tweto said.
Tweto, born in 1954, ended up in Alaska after being recruited to play hockey at the University of Anchorage. He was a star goaltender in Silver Bay in the early 1970s. He ended up playing in Anchorage but soon realized that hockey wouldn’t be a career he would follow the rest of his life.
In 1980 he moved to Unalakleet to work on fishing boats.
“In the summer I got jobs,” Tweto said. He was learning there was a lot more to Alaska than what he knew back in Minnesota. He thought flying was a good way to see even more of the “last frontier.”
He would take flying lessons between college classes and hockey practice and eventually got a pilot’s license.
He got into the flying business and then became the owner of Era Alaska. His brother, Ron, helped him get started. He was the president of Anchorage-based Hageland Aviation Services. In 2002, he was a passenger aboard a twin-engine plane that crashed in mountainous terrain in western Arkansas. Ron and two pilots didn’t survive.
Jim Tweto was involved in accident in 2007 and broke his neck. Within months he went back to work flying. About 22 percent of all small plane crashes in the U.S. occur in Alaska, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Tweto doesn’t have any immediate family members who remain in northeastern Minnesota. He’s been back for some school reunions but hasn’t been to the North Shore in about 10 years.
“It’s a great place to grow up,” Tweto said. “It’s a great place to be from. ... My hockey experience opened the door for Alaska.”
Tweto now lives on a coastal community in Alaska, with weather quite similar to Minnesota. “It’s about the same,” he said. “We get a lot more wind.”
Tweto said he wasn’t sure if there would be a second season for the show but the ratings were good. Last Friday Entertainment Weekly reported the show will be picked up for a second season.
“The first week or two … it was like a fly in your face,” he said of the whole filming experience. “The whole show was a great experience. We all had a mission. They made a great show.”
From boats to planes
From the Discovery Channel’s biography of Jim Tweto:
In 1980 he stopped playing hockey and moved to the village of Unalakleet to start building fishing boats. Jim was a hard worker, but not without a sense of humor, naming his company “Gussik Ventures,” after the Eskimo term for a white person. These “Tweto Boats” were used by the locals for all types of fishing, and nearly three-quarters of the boats in the region today were built by Jim in the early 80s.
In December of 1984, Jim decided to try as hand as a professional pilot and started flying for a small airline in Unalakleet. The company was run by Ferno’s father, and it was here that Jim and Ferno’s relationship blossomed. Jim was a natural as a pilot, and his entrepreneurial spirit encouraged him to start his own company several years later.
A far cry from the ERA Alaska of today, Jim’s company started with one airplane and Ferno taking calls at home while their young daughters Ayla and Ariel were toddling around their small apartment.
Jim’s business was a big success, and in 1990 he joined forces with Mike Hageland to form Hageland Aviation. Over the next decade the company continued to grow, and in 2008 they merged with Era Alaska, creating the largest regional airline in Alaska.
Jim is respected across the state as one of the best small plane pilots, and has logged over 30,000 hours behind the yoke of an aircraft. But flying small planes in Alaska can be a dangerous profession, so it is rare for a pilot to rack up so many hours of flying in the bush without a mishap.
Jim has only had one accident during his many years of flying, during a 2007 off-airport landing in his Super Cub. Although Jim’s neck was broken in the accident, within months he was back to work, loading planes with essential supplies and flying the wilds of bush Alaska.