Ain't no sunshineAug 22, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen Staff Writer, with staff reports
A dazzling sight treated Fremont County residents and thousands of visitors Monday morning when the first total solar eclipse visible in 99 years arrived at about 11:40 a.m.
For a while on Monday it seemed like Fremont County might not be the prime viewing location that had been promised.
At 5 a.m., the National Weather Service forecast that Riverton would face 50 percent cloud cover at the time of the eclipse.
Wispy clouds covered the sun as the moon made first contact around 10:30 a.m. Then, just a minute or so before totality struck, the sun emerged from behind its veil.
Gasps and cheers were heard across Riverton neighborhoods, where residents had pulled out lawn chairs to enjoy the show.
Riverton and vicinity had been promoted all year long as among the most-like places for favorable viewing in the nation. Local authorities were still calculating how many out-of-town visitors arrived to see the eclipse, but it was in the thousands.
At Riverton Regional Airport 65 general aviation propeller and turbo-prop planes flew into Riverton Regional Airport on Monday alone for the solar eclipse. Numerous others had arrived starting as early as last Thursday.
20 jets also arrived, with another four flying in during the days prior.
In total there were 113 general aviation aircraft that came in for the eclipse, but airport manager Paul Griffin said that the temporary construction at Lander's airport meant there were roughly 170 aircraft in total at the airport Monday
Griffin said the airport had room for another 20 jets on one of the closed runways and had overflow room for another 25 aircraft.
At one point on Monday morning, Griffin was expecting 160 planes to fly in that day. There was originally supposed to be a Boeing 737 coming to town, but that plane flew to Casper instead.
Among the eclipse arrivals was the Dornier 328 jetliner flown on commercial flights daily by Denver Air Connection. On Monday, after delivering its Riverton and Sheridan Passenger sot Denver earlier in the morning, it arrived back at Riverton Regional with a full load of charter passengers coming for the eclipse.
Most of the air arrivals stayed at the airport for the eclipse, and many departed immediately afterward.
Griffin took an unusual role Monday, donning a safety vest and helping control traffic on the runway.
"I've been here 22 years, and this is the busiest I've ever seen this airport," Griffin said.
In the hours before the eclipse, planes began landing around every five minutes and visitors gathered on the tarmac in front of Jim's Air Service, where vendors sold food and coffee to the visitors.
Without an aircraft control tower, planes communicated directly with each other, circling overhead Riverton in their left-hand traffic square pattern before receiving the go-ahead to land.