ZLA Controller Saves Own Supervisor
Friday, March 16, 2012
While NATCA members across the nation have the lives of hundreds of thousands of air travelers in their hands every day, they don’t usually have to save the lives of one of their own co-workers while on the job. But after a Los Angeles Center (ZLA) supervisor began choking on a taco, that’s exactly what happened.
Controller Chad Hill, a seven-year veteran at ZLA, was working over this past weekend when he heard supervisor John Arntz begin to make a strange noise. As it turned out, Arntz was eating beef tacos too quickly and he was choking. Frantically, Arntz tried to drink soda to break down the food, but even that wouldn’t work.
Hill wasn’t sure initially if Arntz was choking or if he was having a heart attack, and his supervisor was in too much shock to make a visual indication of what was wrong. But Hill used his 6’2” frame and, without saying a word, grabbed Arntz, pumped his sternum twice and dislodged the food, saving his life.
And then they all just went back to work as if nothing happened. Arntz said he was incredibly grateful for Hill’s quick action, and said it was to be expected mentioning ZLA is like a family that transcends beyond the NATCA employee/FAA supervisor divide.
“You and your co-workers become family members because you work in such intimate surroundings and you have to trust each other,” Arntz said. “When you’re around people that long and they treat you like family, you can tell that they’re happy and thankful that it turned out the way it did.”
When reached by phone on Thursday, Hill was very humble about the most memorable save any controller could make. He said he left after the shift to travel to Atlanta, so he hasn’t really spent too much time dwelling on what he did.
“It’s just part of what we do here, which is look out for each other,” Hill said. “I just happened to be there at that moment. I guarantee you that if it wasn’t me there, anyone else would have done exactly what I did.”
ZLA facility representative Nate Pair said, after the incident, everyone was in shock, but continued to go about their business. He said both Arntz and Hill continued their shifts as if their meals were uneventful.
“We were all standing there like, ‘wait did this just happen?” Pair said. “They hugged it out, and I think we were all just thinking, ‘okay, well, it’s time to go back to work.”
Hill said NATCA members are conditioned by trade to be alert, responsive and always on top of their game. That, he said, extends to when he has to apply the Heimlich maneuver.
“It’s just like the job we do every day,” Hill said. “We are all prepared for anything that comes our way, even things like this when we least expect it.”