Archie League President's Award

Detroit Controller Wins NATCA President's Award for Best Flight Assist

Air traffic controller Patrick Eberhart of Detroit Metro TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) was presented with the NATCA President’s Award last night at the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards for his determination under duress and dedication to safety.

Relying on a directional procedure not used at his facility in 10 years, he depended on his experience and was able to safely guide an aircraft to landing with malfunctioning instruments and low fuel.

The following is a summary of the save:

Great Lakes Region
Patrick Eberhart
Detroit TRACON

“This was without a doubt, an actual emergency. Our lives were in his hands.”

These were the words written by Ryun Black, the pilot of a Beech Bonanza that experienced an emergency on the night of Jan. 3, 2007, and was safely directed towards Pontiac (Mich.) Airport by Detroit TRACON controller Patrick Eberhart. “I want this controller to know that I will never forget what he did for us that night,” wrote Black.

The incident began when Eberhart noticed that the BE35 was off course on its initial approach into PTK. Eberhart coordinated with the Pontiac Tower to have the aircraft abandon the approach and he would vector him back around for another try.

Just as Black abandoned the approach, he radioed, “We’re critically low on fuel.” Eberhart heard the emergency call and immediately came on the frequency. Eberhart then confirmed with Black that he was declaring an emergency, and set about to vector Black towards PTK.

Black also informed Eberhart that his instruments were not working properly and that he would need vectors to the airport.

Eberhart slowly began to clear his radio frequency so he could focus all of his attention on the aircraft in distress.

Eberhart informed Black he would be issuing vectors to a surveillance radar approach to PTK, a procedure controllers in the Detroit TRACON have not used in over 10 years. But due to his experience as a controller and knowledge of the area, Eberhart felt he could safely vector the aircraft towards the runway.

As he was issuing the vectors, Eberhart noticed the pilot was not properly flying the assigned headings, which he attributed to the instrument outage on the aircraft. Because of this, Eberhart began to issue no-gyro vectors to the final, another skill that has not been used in the TRACON for over 10 years. In no-gyro vectors, the controller essentially tells the pilot when to start and stop a turn.

“[The controller] made it very simple by giving us start turn, stop turn vectors and eventually gave us an altitude that got us below the clouds with the runway in front of us – brightly lit,” Black reported in his letter. 

Thirteen minutes after the initial emergency call was issued, Black was able to successfully land the aircraft at PTK.

“I am grateful for (Eberhart’s) swift action,” wrote Black. “He could tell from my voice that it was of vital importance to be expeditious and accurate.”

“Pat relied on a procedure that we haven’t used in over 10 years to get the aircraft on the ground,” stated Detroit TRACON NATCA Facility Representative Jeff Blow. “This is something only an experienced controller would know how to do.”

By relying on his experience and knowledge of the area, Eberhart was able to safely vector an aircraft critically low on fuel to a safe, uneventful landing at PTK; just another day at the office.


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