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Bernie Nelson, Richmond ATCT

With over 30 years of experience in air traffic control, Bernie Nelson has gained the expertise necessary to spot a potentially dangerous situation, take control, and steer pilots out of danger. This is a skill that controllers learn as they accumulate hours on the job and is hard to replace when the skilled controllers retire. On Tuesday, January 24, 2006, Nelson demonstrated this expertise as he prevented a Beech Barron from descending directly on top of a Lear Jet, as both aircraft attempted to land at Richmond International Airport (RIC).

N45KX, the Lear Jet, was handed off to Nelson from Potomac TRACON (PCT) and Nelson cleared him to land a visual approach onto Runway 20. Meanwhile, N320WD, the Beech Barron, was instructed by PCT to follow the Lear Jet toward RIC and check-in with the tower for a visual approach to Runway 20, directly behind the Lear.

Nelson, who was watching each of the aircraft’s mode-c altitudes on the RACD, noticed the Barron descending out of 2300 feet directly over the Lear prior to checking-in for clearance.

The Barron then checked in with Nelson and Nelson immediately asked the pilot, “Do you have the traffic below you?”

The pilot did not respond so Nelson instructed, “N320WD stop your descent. Do you have the traffic you are following?”

The pilot responded, “We had a Lear we thought we were following but I do not have him in sight at this time.”

In a calm, controlling voice Nelson advised the pilot, “When you lose sight of him, you can’t keep descending. You are right on top of the guy.”

Nelson told the Barron to stay at the current altitude and to fly heading 090 and maintain VFR, thus removing him from the final approach and from directly above the Lear. Nelson then contacted PCT and told them he was sending the Barron back to them for re-sequencing. After a few seconds, the Barron responded that he had the traffic in sight and again asked for clearance. Nelson denied the request, giving the pilot the frequency for PCT.

After the Barron was cleared from above the Lear, Nelson radioed the Lear to continue his approach and to land on Runway 20. The Lear pilot, who was able to hear Nelson move the Barron away from his aircraft, indicated that he had an RA, but did not take action because he knew the controller had the situation under control.

The Lear landed safely, as did the Barron, after circling back around for a second attempt.

With his 30-plus years of experience, Nelson was able to control a situation that could have become disastrous had the Barron continued to descend directly onto the Lear.

“Mr. Nelson’s astute awareness and keen observation of his traffic helped to avert a potentially disastrous outcome between these two aircraft and the lives onboard,” said RIC FacRep Jeff Gaffney. “It is this type of experience and attention to detail that the users of the National Airspace System are going to sorely miss.”

Nelson walked down the control tower steps for the last time on January 3.

A transcript of this recording can be found HERE.

Listen to the highlights of the event:

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