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March 3, 2017 // Archie League Medal of Safety Awards Recipients, Part 3

For the full list of winners, click here.

Each of our Archie League Medal of Safety Award recipients will be honored at the annual awards banquet at Communicating For Safety on March 22. The event will be live webcast on natca.org with video available after CFS on our YouTube channel here.

Mason Braddock, Atlanta TRACON
Nichole Surunis, Atlanta TRACON
Patrick Burrows, Atlanta TRACON
Clay Sutton, Atlanta TRACON
Keith Tyus, Atlanta TRACON
Southern Region

On Feb. 14, 2016, the pilot of a Cessna 172S departed from Madison Municipal Airport (52A) to conduct aerial photography at a location 10 miles southwest of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL). The pilot, Cathy Lewan, contacted Atlanta TRACON (A80) SAT-P sector, staffed by Patrick Burrows, to advise her location and declare an emergency due to a throttle malfunction. Although the frequency the pilot was transmitting on made communications difficult, Burrows was able to establish the aircraft’s location, that the throttle was in the max power setting, and that there were four hours of fuel remaining with one soul on board.

Burrows briefed the controller in charge (CIC), Clay Sutton, who immediately established specific duties for team members during this emergency. First, Mason Braddock, staffing the SAT-F position, was briefed on the situation and advised that the pilot would be contacting him due to the greatly improved frequency reception. Next, Sutton reassigned Nichole Surunis from the Hand-Off P (HP) position to the Hand-Off F (HF) position to assist Braddock. Sutton ensured that Atlanta Final controllers were briefed on the situation due to the aircraft’s close proximity to ATL. After learning that the pilot’s intentions were to land at ATL, Sutton briefed ATL Tower personnel. Burrows then instructed the pilot to change to the SAT-F frequency at 121.0.

The pilot checked in with Braddock and suggested that she circle around the airport until the aircraft ran out of fuel. Braddock advised the pilot that the best plan for the time being would be to circle near her present position so she and the team could do further trouble-shooting.

Braddock continued to communicate with the pilot, at times reminding her to watch her airspeed and continually reassuring her. Sutton and FLM Bryant Vaughan explored all available resources. They decided that a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) should provide additional service on another A80 frequency. The CFI asked a few questions, trying to assess the situation. Before leaving the frequency due to reception issues, the CFI advised that the pilot make a gradual descent to the runway in an effort to keep airspeed down, then once over the runway threshold, pull the mixture to shut down the engine.

Traffic Management Unit (TMU) Specialist Keith Tyus, who is also a CFI, was brought on to further assess the situation. Tyus monitored the situation and provided valuable information to the team from a skilled pilot’s perspective.

Braddock and the pilot discussed the plan to land on Runway 10 at ATL by making a gradual descent and pulling the mixture. Braddock made sure the pilot understood that she should not shut down the engine until the aircraft was over the runway.

As the aircraft was circling, the pilot spotted the ARFF (aviation rescue and fire fighting) emergency vehicles staged at Runway 10 awaiting her arrival, and she mentioned that it made her uneasy. Braddock, in a calm and reassuring voice, again assured her that he was there for her and everything was going to be fine. The pilot asked for someone to contact her husband, tell him that she loves him, and ask him to start a prayer tree for her safe landing. Braddock agreed, but again reassured her that she could successfully complete the landing.

A short time later, with the pilot still very nervous, Braddock asked her if she wanted to do a practice run to a low approach, and she accepted, saying it would give her the opportunity to get a feel for the gradual descent profile. The practice run seemed to provide the pilot with the confidence needed to attempt the approach to a landing.

A80 coordinated to keep the aircraft on the SAT-F frequency and Braddock advised the pilot that she should contact ATL Tower on 119.5 only after she had landed. Once the pilot had re-established the aircraft on final and began the approach, Braddock provided reassurance and wind checks until it was confirmed that the aircraft landed safely.

Patrick M. Armstrong, Dallas/Fort Worth TRACON
Southwest Region

On March 10, 2016, a Beechcraft B35 was on an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) fight plan from El Paso Airport (ELP) to Grand Prairie Airport (GPM). The pilot was having trouble landing at GPM, and checked in on frequency with Dallas/Fort Worth TRACON (D10). D10 controller Patrick Armstrong immediately began working with him.

Over the course of this event, the pilot attempted the only instruments approach available – RNAV/GPS Runway 35 – twice into Grand Prairie. The weather for Grand Prairie was five miles visibility, light rain, and ceilings overcast at 800 feet.

The pilot was having difficulty maintaining altitude and headings while attempting to fly the RNAV/GPS approaches. After two unsuccessful attempts, the pilot advised that he had only 10 minutes of fuel remaining, making the imminent situation all the more pressing. Patrick quickly thought of all his options and offered the pilot an ILS approach at neighboring Arlington Municipal Airport (KGKY). The pilot concurred with Armstrong and was vectored for the ILS approach into Arlington.

Armstrong knew that the pilot did not have time to get the weather or to find the Arlington ILS approach plate and issued both to him. Armstrong coordinated with Arlington tower, received and issued a landing clearance, and worked the aircraft to a successful landing. The pilot later called the TRACON and talked specifically with Armstrong to thank him for saving his life. He even offered a steak dinner to Armstrong at a restaurant of his choice.

Brian Bond, Phoenix TRACON
Carlton Wickstrom, Phoenix TRACON
Aaron C. Fones, Phoenix TRACON
Western Pacific Region

On Jan. 19, 2016, a winter weather system was moving through the northern half of Arizona. It brought snow to higher elevations, gusty winds at the surface, low ceilings, and moderate turbulence throughout the affected airspace sectors of Phoenix TRACON (P50).

That evening, the controller working the P50 Jerome Sector, Carlton Wickstrom, received a landline call from the controller working Albuquerque Center (ZAB) sector 43. The ZAB controller advised Wickstrom that a Cessna 172S en route from North Las Vegas Airport (VGT) to Phoenix Goodyear Airport (GYR), was originally VFR, but encountered Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) and was given an IFR clearance. The ZAB controller also said the pilot was having trouble maintaining an assigned heading, but was issued an altitude of 10,000 feet and an eastbound heading to keep her clear of the Military Operations Area (MOA).

The pilot checked in to the Jerome frequency at 10,200 feet. Wickstrom asked if it was her desire was to continue to GYR. Wickstrom then advised her that Prescott (PRC) was 35 miles to the east if that was an option she would like to look at. She asked if he was directing her to PRC, and Wickstrom replied that it would be at her discretion, but that he could get her into a lower minimum vectoring altitude (MVA) and get the aircraft out of some of the weather difficulties that she was experiencing if she headed to PRC. The pilot indicated she would like to try for PRC.

The aircraft’s Mode C indicated an altitude of 9,900 feet, so Wickstrom issued her a descent to 9,000, but the aircraft continued to descend. Wickstrom issued a low altitude alert and advised the pilot the MVA in her area was 9,000. Her Mode C now indicated 8,100. The aircraft was also heading northbound and not on the 080 heading that was originally issued. The pilot responded that she was trying to climb. When asked if she had the terrain in sight, she replied that she did not. In a calm voice, Wickstrom told her to maintain 9,000 and asked her what heading she was showing. She was unsure of her heading, and at this point it became evident that there were some equipment issues going on with her aircraft. Wickstrom asked if her wings were level and told her to fly her present heading to keep her in a lower MVA.

Wickstrom then began to issue no-gyro vectors to get her pointed back towards PRC. At one point he told her to stop her turn and advise when her wings were level. He then asked if the pilot thought she could hold a due east heading. Her reply verified that this was becoming a dire situation, as she sounded confused and unsure if she could hold any kind of heading. Wickstrom then asked if it appeared that her instruments were working, to which she replied that she thought so, but probably didn’t look like it on the other end since she was getting tossed around a lot. Wickstrom made two transmissions asking her if it appeared that the vacuum and suction gauges were working properly to which there was no response. Wickstrom tried to reestablish communications and finally got a response. He then asked what her altitude was. She replied, “I’m showing 6,600 so I don’t know what my altitude is.” Wickstrom explained that she needed to climb and, if able, maintain 8,000 feet.

During this time, front line manager Doug Hart had sought the help of two experienced pilots who happened to be on duty at the time. Aaron C. Fones, an IFR rated pilot, was moved from working the Flight Data position to the Jerome sector to provide technical assistance. Brian Bond, also an experienced IFR-rated pilot, was paged back to the control room early from a break. Hart, who himself is an experienced pilot, displayed outstanding awareness in bringing these assets into the situation, and provided his own expertise. All three of these pilots have had numerous flights in the area where this situation was developing and were very familiar with the terrain, obstacles, and landmarks.

Fones took over talking on the frequency to the aircraft. He once again asked if her wings were level and instructed her to add as much power as she could and start a gradual climb. He wanted to ensure that she wouldn’t get into a stall situation by attempting to climb too fast to get above the terrain. A short while later, Fones asked if she was able to climb and to say her altitude, as she still wasn’t being displayed on radar. She said she was getting tossed around a lot but was able to maintain a climb. Fones asked if she was able to determine what heading she was currently flying, and determined that her current heading and altitude were putting her dangerously close to a mountain ridge. Fones told her to begin a left turn and to keep the climb going. He then asked if she could see the ground or any lights, which her response was that she couldn’t see any lights, just snow and that with getting tossed around so much it was very difficult to take her eyes off the instruments.  

A mountain peak with an elevation of 7,900 feet is approximately eight miles to the west of PRC. Fones was desperately trying to keep the aircraft away from this area as it repeatedly turned southeast bound. Fones calmly issued no-gyro vectors to get the pilot turned to the left.

The pilot advised that she noticed that her vertical speed indicator was not working properly which was probably giving her the difficulties in maintaining altitude. Fones got her pointed towards the airport and told her to watch her altimeter to see whether she was in a descent.

PRC tower called and advised that the aircraft was in sight. The tower had turned the airfield lights up all the way to help her identify it. As she passed over the airport at 8,000 feet she reported it in sight and said she could take over visually.

Fones then switched her to PRC tower frequency and told her what a great job she did.

Wickstrom, Fones, Bond, and Hart were able to formulate a plan and communicate it to the pilot, all while attempting to keep her calm and focused. By asking all of the right questions they were able to determine that the aircraft would have enough fuel to reach PRC and the working status of various instruments on the aircraft. Calm and collected at all times, they were able to provide no-gyro vectors and get the aircraft headed towards the airport. Holding altitude was also very difficult, and they knew exactly the correct instructions to give her to maintain a safe climb and descent attitude. They were able to get the pilot to disregard the erroneous instruments to keep her from being distracted by the false readings.

At times, this situation could have had a grave outcome. The quick thinking, composure, and expertise of the controllers involved saved two lives that night.

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