Feb. 17, 2017 // 2017 Archie League Medal of Safety Award Recipients, Part 1
For the full list of winners, click here.
Jessica Earp, Anchorage Center
On July 25, 2016, a Navy F-18 departed Eielson Air Force Base (EIL) following a refueling stop en route to Asia for a training exercise. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot shut down one engine and declared an emergency due to an aircraft malfunction. The pilot operated the second engine at reduced power in order to conserve fuel, and immediately turned back toward EIL. A second F-18 flying with the aircraft also turned back. The tanker that had accompanied the aircraft was unable to break off and give the aircraft in distress additional fuel at the time because it was refueling a different F-18 in the group. By the time the tanker was able to break from the group, the emergency was too far away for the tanker to catch up.
The weather surrounding the Aleutian Islands was poor and most airports were reporting only a quarter-mile visibility. The F-18 pilot attempted to find an airport with a runway long enough to land, and decided to head to King Salmon Airport (AKN), which has an 8,900-foot long runway.
With low fuel and a bad weather situation on the ground, the pilot was desperate to get the aircraft on the ground. Anchorage Center (ZAN) controller Jessica Earp took quick action and suggested nearby St. Paul Airport (SNP). The airport has a 6,500-foot runway and was reporting VFR (visual flight rules) conditions at the time. St. Paul Island is a small, 40-square mile island in the Bering Sea that has a population of 532. It is home to a native village that supports the fishing industry in Alaska. There is one post office, one school, and one church.
Until Earp suggested the airport, the pilot had not considered the possibility and, because of deteriorating conditions, was looking to ditch the F-18 in the ocean in hope of a water rescue. The next closest airport with a comparable runway was about 300 miles away over the Bering Sea.
When Earp relayed to the pilot that SNP reported VFR conditions, the pilot was anxious to head that way. Earp issued a heading and the pilot was able to get the airport in sight and land without incident. Without Earp’s quick thinking, the pilot would have had to ditch the F-18 in the middle of the ocean. Her knowledge of ZAN airspace and the airports within it prevented a potentially tragic outcome.
Jeffrey R. Volski, Kansas City Center
Andrew Cullen, Kansas City Center
On Dec. 16, 2016, a Cirrus SR22 departed from Hannibal Regional Airport (HAE) with plans to land at Jefferson City Memorial Airport (JEF).
When the pilot checked in with Kansas City Center (ZKC), he immediately made a request to return to HAE due to severe icing he encountered after takeoff. As ZKC controller Andrew Cullen provided assistance on the D-side position, fellow ZKC controller Jeffrey R. Volski established the aircraft on the RNAV Runway 17 approach and issued the pilot instructions for an approach. The pilot lost visual contact with the field after attempting to execute a circle approach to Runway 35.
After the first missed approach, Volski identified the aircraft on radar and provided navigational assistance and headings for the RNAV Runway 35 approach. Volski gave as much information as possible to the pilot to assist with handling the aircraft that was still experiencing icing. Volski was also responsible for working other aircraft in an especially busy sector during this incident. The pilot had difficulty holding altitude during the approach, but was able to land the aircraft safely.
Volski and Cullen did an outstanding job providing assistance and reassurance to the pilot through two approach attempts. Volski calmly issued navigational assistance and instruction throughout, ensuring a positive outcome to a challenging flight situation.
Richard Wallace, Washington Center
Jaymi Steinberg, Washington Center
On March 27, 2016, Raleigh-Durham (RDU) approach handed off a Piper PA-23-250 to the South Boston sector at Washington Center (ZDC). The pilot had encountered marginal weather after departing from Charleston International Airport (CHS). He was originally destined for Martin State Airport (MTN) near Baltimore, but was looking for a closer airport that had VFR (visual flight rules) conditions as the aircraft had lost its directional gyro and altitude indicator.
ZDC controller Jaymi Steinberg coordinated the handoff and relayed important information to fellow ZDC controller Richard Wallace, who issued no-gyro vectors to the pilot and attempted to find the closest airport with VFR conditions. As Wallace and Steinberg found information on nearby airports, the pilot reported a serious issue: The right engine had abruptly lost power. After switching fuel tanks, power was briefly restored to the engine, followed by an abrupt loss of power in both engines.
Wallace responded immediately and began to navigate him to the closest airport. The pilot stated he did not think he could remain airborne and needed a road or something similar on which he could land.
Wallace and Steinberg pulled out sectional charts and began to look for the closest highway. Wallace pointed out Highway 58 in southern Virginia and attempted to inform the pilot that the area has terrain obstructions. However, the aircraft was below ZDC frequency coverage. Wallace then attempted to relay through another aircraft in the vicinity due to no response from the pilot.
Soon after, the pilot performed a forced landing onto the median of the highway, 10 miles east of Danville, Va. During the landing, the aircraft impacted a tree and came to a stop upside-down. The pilot sustained minor injuries while the three passengers on board were uninjured. Wallace and Steinberg’s determination to get the pilot navigational, weather, and highway information was essential to getting the aircraft onto the ground safely. Without their coordinated efforts, the incident may have resulted in loss of life.