We Guide You Home

Feb. 24, 2017 // 2017 Archie League Medal of Safety Award Recipients, Part 2

For the full list of winners, click here.

David Stempien, Cleveland Center
Great Lakes Region

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. Controllers heard yelling and panicked breathing, followed by someone repeatedly ordering, “let go of the yoke!”

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 OK. 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,”v 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 of the aircraft. 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 right now.” The pilot then held at 5,000 feet until things slowed down a little bit.

After Stempien was sure the pilot had regained control of the aircraft, he asked the pilot if the aircraft had sustained any damage. The pilot advised that the wingtip fuel covers were open but that the plugs must still be in place because he was not losing fuel. The fuel covers being open indicated that at some point, the aircraft had completely rolled.

The controller advised that there were several airports in the vicinity if the pilot wanted to land. The pilot indicated that he wanted to continue and that he might soon land, reporting that there was good, clear weather.

Subsequently, the pilot was asked to call ZOB after he landed. 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.


Eric Vanstrom, Fort Wayne
Great Lakes Region

In this dramatic flight assist, a Piper PA-32R-301T lost navigation during a severe weather incident. The pilot was unable to correct course on his own and was in a circling descent. Fort Wayne (FWA) controller Eric Vanstrom immediately identified that the aircraft was in distress and began issuing navigational aid. The pilot informed Vanstrom that they were having trouble with the VSI (vertical speed indicator).

Due to the poor weather, Vanstrom recommended the pilot change course to Portland, Ind. Municipal Airport (PLD), which was reporting VFR conditions, and set the pilot up on an RNAV Runway 9 approach.

The pilot continued to appear disoriented and had trouble maintaining steady flight on final approach. Vanstrom watched the aircraft perform multiple circles and altitude changes, which caused several passes below the minimum vectoring altitude (MVA). Vanstrom calmly issued corrective headings and altitudes and made sure that the pilot had weather information for PLD.

Vanstrom continued to issue no gyro vectors until the aircraft dropped out of frequency range. After continuing to issue important airport and weather information in hopes the pilot would hear it, another pilot relayed that the aircraft was safely on the ground.

Vanstrom remained with the pilot for the duration of the event, which lasted nearly two hours, in addition to working several other aircraft in his airspace. He displayed exceptional decision making throughout the event and got the aircraft to better weather conditions, ensuring the safety of the pilot throughout a dangerous situation.

Ross Leshinsky, Boston
Eric J. Knight, Boston
New England Region

On Oct. 20, 2016, Boston (BOS) was set in an ILS (instrument landing system) 4R and ILS 15R circle to 4L configuration for all aircraft. At the time, the tower was already short-staffed when they got a call from the hospital that there had been a family emergency and that he needed to leave immediately.

Shortly after, a Piedmont Airlines De Havilland Dash 8-300 aircraft was on final approach. The aircraft was coming in on the 15R circle approach when the CIC (controller in charge), Eric J. Knight, and LCW (local control west) controller Ross Leshinsky noticed that the aircraft was on an abnormal profile.

Everyone in the tower kept an eye on the aircraft as it was on short base over the channel. It came in on a short dogleg, and when the pilot rolled out with less than an eighth of a mile to go, he lined up for Taxiway B instead of the open runway.

Knight immediately told the pilot that he was lined up for the taxiway and Leshinsky instructed him to go around, which he did. The aircraft flew over a JetBlue aircraft that was on the taxiway. The controllers’ teamwork and attention to detail working a busy traffic area prevented a potentially devastating outcome.


Aaron Grijalva, Denver TRACON
Northwest Mountain Region

On Dec. 11, 2016, a student pilot of a Cessna 172S checked in on Denver TRACON (D01) frequency. Controller Aaron Grijalva began working the aircraft in the Satellite Radar 4 area. The pilot, who was difficult to understand, requested flight following in the Centennial Airport (APA) area and requested navigational aid to Pueblo Memorial Airport (PUB). The student pilot was having a difficult time navigating through the clouds and repeatedly asked to be vectored around them.

Grijalva remained calm and explained the limitations of radar to the student pilot, offering several options, including returning to APA. He inquired about the aircraft’s flight conditions and the student pilot’s intentions, as the aircraft seemed to be off course and not making progress towards the destination. The pilot seemed a little disoriented and unclear on what they should do. Grijalva, who is also a pilot, provided guidance and weather conditions as well as basic flight maneuvers to the student pilot.

His expertise helped the pilot stabilize the aircraft and navigate back towards APA, where the weather was reported to be better. The student pilot again asked to continue on to PUB, but Grijalva used his judgment and ability to reason to convince the student pilot to return the aircraft to the ground and make sure they were ready to conduct the flight.

The aircraft is based at the flight school at APA, so after the incident, Grijalva was able to contact the pilot’s flight instructor. The CFI (certified flight instructor) said the pilot will be retrained on navigation and radio procedures before advancing in their flight-training program.