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Alaskan Region

Kristina Kurtz, Anchorage TRACON

A non-instrument-rated pilot who was receiving radar service from an Anchorage TRACON controller encountered Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) weather – meaning the pilot would have to rely on instruments to land – while flying at night on Nov. 6, 2011. This is about the worst thing a controller wants to hear, as these situations often end in accidents.

But this controller, Kristina Kurtz, has 24 years of experience and worked quickly to make sure this situation ended well. She was able to talk a general aviation pilot with no instrument experience through white-out conditions to a safe landing at Merrill Field, the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) general aviation airport in downtown Anchorage.

Kurtz: Are you IFR-capable and qualified sir?

N15F: I’d like to see some lights of Anchorage and if we can, then we can probably come in. But I can’t seem to keep my GPS working so I’m kinda in the dark.

Kurtz verified the pilot’s situation and instructed him to maintain his current heading and altitude. These were of paramount importance because of the likelihood that the pilot would fly into the terrain because of the lack of visibility.

Kurtz immediately took action to sterilize her airspace and frequencies and began to solicit the assistance of an instrument-rated pilot. The first two attempts failed – the first due to fuel limitations and the second because of a Lifeguard flight. The third attempt succeeded in enlisting the help of a Cathay Pacific Airways pilot.

As the controller and Cathay Pacific Airways pilot began to acquire additional information to prepare the pilot for a descent from IFR to VFR or clear conditions, the pilot exited the IFR conditions and reported that he could see the lights of Anchorage – although the intended airport was still not visible.

The controller continued to provide assistance and instructions to direct the pilot to the airport.

Kurtz: “At your twelve o’clock, six miles is Elmendorf Air Force Base, sir. I’m showing weather should clear up for you slightly in about another half mile.

N15F: Copy. Maintaining 17 hundred feet.

Kurtz: Merrill Field is now 11 o’clock, one mile.

Kurtz worked the aircraft until directly over the airport, telling the pilot that the airport was directly below him. The pilot finally reported that the airport was in sight. Kurtz told him to continue to keep the airport in sight and contact Merrill Tower for landing clearance.

N15F: Thanks. Good day.

This event resulted in a safe landing because Kurtz had the wherewithal to ensure that an instrument-rated pilot was on frequency before he issued navigational instructions to the pilot. The instrument-rated pilot could ensure that all necessary information was obtained and that all requirements were satisfied to handle the emergency. This was an excellent example of resource management.

Listen to the highlights of this event:

A transcript of this recording can be found here.

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