NORTHWEST MOUNTAIN REGION
“Seattle Approach, Cessna 6725Foxtrot is with you on 119.2.”
Veteran Seattle TRACON controller Ivy Sylvain picked up the target while handling a heavy load of departure traffic. The pilot of this Cessna had taken off from Bowers Field in Ellensburg, Wash., near the center of the state, and was headed west to Auburn Municipal Airport, just south of Seattle. Sylvain instructed the pilot to stay in Visual Flight Rules, below the Class Bravo airspace, pointing out that an overcast layer was at 3,000 feet.
The pilot was not qualified for Instrument Flight Rules, nor was his aircraft equipped for IFR. But he soon discovered that expectations of clear weather conditions were wrong. He found himself above a solid cloud layer and intended to find a hole to descend through. His fuel was low, not enough to return to Ellensburg or to proceed southwest to Olympia, where a hole in the overcast was reported.
Sylvain advised of low clouds in the Seattle area and told the pilot she would work with him to pursue the possibility of getting him down below the cloud layer, back to VFR conditions.
“Uh, it looks like I might be able to get down through something right out in front of me. I’m just going to take a look at it.”
As the Cessna started descending east of Seattle, she asked him how it looked.
“Looks like I have a hole out in front of me. I hope it’s not just shadows.”
This statement “definitely got my heart racing,” Sylvain said. She pulled up information about an airport in the vicinity, Fall City, 25 miles east of Seattle, and told the pilot the runway direction, dimensions and composition.
A second private pilot, listening in, advised the Cessna of the low ceiling and gave him a stern warning: “I’m not going to tell you that you can’t try this, but I just want to let you know that if you try this and get down there and start fooling around and can’t get to where you want to go, you better have enough gas to get back to where you can go.”
The Cessna pilot reported having the ground in sight and continued his descent. But Sylvain then lost radio contact and by the time she was able to re-establish contact, with the help of a Northwest Airlines pilot, the Cessna was headed the wrong way. But Sylvain provided course corrections via a second NWA pilot until she lost radar contact. The target reappeared a short distance from Fall City.
Soon after, the second NWA pilot, talking to the Cessna, reported good news to Sylvain:
“25Foxtrot has FallCityAirport in sight and he will give you a call when he gets on the ground.”
“I was in the room during this assist, working arrival, and Ivy did a great job,” said Seattle TRACON Facility Representative Dan Olsen.
Said Sylvain: “When it was over, the adrenaline let down and just plain relief almost made me cry. But I wanted to keep working.”
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