David Stempien, Cleveland Center
Great Lakes Region Archie League Medal of Safety Award Winner
On Oct. 1, 2016, a Beechcraft 35-33 was on Cleveland Center (ZOB) frequency, climbing to a requested 9,000 feet. Five minutes later, an open microphone broadcast the sound of panic as a weather anomaly caused the pilot to lose control of the aircraft.
N305Z: Help [unreadable]. [heavy breathing] [screaming]. Let go of the yoke. Let go of the yoke. Let go of the yoke. [unreadable].
Stempien: All right. Is everybody okay 305Z? You all right?
Stempien: N305Z, are you with Cleveland?
ZOB Morgantown sector radar controller David Stempien immediately recognized the call was from the aircraft and attempted to assist the pilot, asking several times if he was okay. With each radar update, the altitude readout told a terrifying story: 8,100; 7,400; 8,500; 7,800; 6,900; and, finally, 5,000 feet.
Eventually, the pilot responded and Stempien issued guidance to “follow your instruments,” and “trust your instruments,” in an effort to help the pilot regain control.
The aircraft had gotten into a very bad updraft that caused the pilot to completely lose control. The pilot said, “I went way up, no matter what I did it was still climbing and then all the sudden it let go the other way.” Stempien responded, “You’re fine. You’re fine. I’m showing you level at 5,000 now.”
After Stempien was sure the pilot had regained control of the aircraft, he asked the pilot if the aircraft had sustained any damage. The fuel covers being open indicated that the aircraft had completely rolled.
Stempien: N305Z you don’t have any damage to the aircraft or anything like that, do you?
N305Z: The only thing that I see is my wing tip fuel door. The fuel covers are open but the…plugs are still in place. I’m not losing fuel out there.
Stempien: Roger. Sounds good. We do have, you know, multiple airports around your area if you do feel the need to land. I’ve got that. Ton of options for you. Just let us know.
The pilot and Stempien discussed airport options and weather conditions before the pilot decided to land at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pa. (LBE).
The aircraft landed safely at LBE and telephoned ZOB, recounting his experience with the operations manager. The pilot was very grateful to Stempien for his assistance, saying, “I appreciate the help, you were right there. Thank you so much!”
N305Z departed LBE just over an hour later and continued to the original destination for a visit with family.
Great Lakes Region Vice President Bryan Zilonis:
“I am always humbled by the ability of our members to demonstrate such calm and professional demeanor under pressure. David remained resolute in his efforts to assist the pilot of N305Z despite the jarring nature of the event. I am extremely proud of his focus during the event and his follow-through after the event to assist the pilot. It is a testament to the dedication of all professionals in the Great Lakes Region.”