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David Brown and Jack Bowers, St. Louis TRACON

“I’m not having a good day.”

That’s what St. Louis TRACON air traffic controller David Brown heard from a pilot in the skies over St. Louis on Dec. 27, 2007.

The aircraft, a Cessna 182, was inbound to the Spirit of St. Louis Airport (SUS) on a cloudy, overcast evening. It had accumulated a lot of ice during the initial descent into SUS, which proved to be an issue over the course of the next two hours as Brown and fellow air traffic controller Jack Bowers attempted to help the pilot land.

After a missed approach into SUS, and upon returning to Brown’s frequency, the pilot asked for assistance to attempt a second landing. But Brown was forced to cancel the approach clearance because the pilot was descending towards the runway too soon.

After turning the aircraft away from the airport, Brown calmly reassured the pilot he was going to continue to work with him and help him land. It was at this point that the pilot first indicated that he had ice on his aircraft, which was hampering his ability to connect with the ILS approach and safely climb.

Taking all the factors into consideration, Brown suggested the pilot head towards St. Louis Downtown Airport (CPS) where weather conditions were more favorable. The pilot agreed. At this point, Bowers – a certified flight instructor – took over for Brown and spent the next hour helping the pilot maneuver the aircraft for a safe landing.

Once the pilot was able to climb to 4,500 feet, he indicated the ice was beginning to melt. As the pilot was gathering himself, Bowers asked for weather conditions from other aircraft in the area and then discussed the conditions at all the local airports with the pilot to determine which airport they should attempt another landing. CPS still appeared to be the best option so Bowers issued the pilot new headings and altitudes.

On the first approach into CPS the aircraft was cleared to land, but the pilot had trouble locating the runway. That forced Bowers to issue a missed approach. A second approach also failed, setting up a third attempt. But the pilot still could not get a clear view of the ground or the runway and was once again forced to climb.

As the pilot was circling back around for a fourth attempt, Bowers received a notice indicating the weather at CPS had worsened. However, the weather at Scott Air Force Base, Mid America Airport (BLV), was much better and Bowers suggested the pilot should consider heading over there.

With the ice beginning to melt off his aircraft and his confidence returning, the pilot agreed with an empathic “We’re going to get it this time.”

He was right. The pilot was able to successfully land, bringing to a conclusion a few long hours of work by these St. Louis TRACON controllers.

The persistence and calm reassurances of the exceptional controllers that evening resulted in a safe and uneventful landing for a very thankful pilot.

A transcript of this recording can be found here.

Listen to the highlights of the event:

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