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Podcast: Alaskan Region 2020 Archie League Award Winners Discuss Their Save

Hear Matthew Freidel (Anchorage Center, ZAN) and John Newcomb (Anchorage TRACON, A11) tell their 2020 Alaskan Region Archie League Medal of Safety Award-winning story, and discuss their efforts to guide the Cessna pilot away from trouble to a safe landing, in the latest episode of the NATCA Podcast.

View transcript of the podcast here.

The weather conditions in Alaska are often poor, but they’re highly changeable. This can lead to situations where a pilot can encounter difficulty, especially if they’re not able to fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Alaskan Region air traffic controllers are keenly aware of this each time they plug in for a shift.

“I’ve seen situations where a pilot gets IMC for 30 seconds, they call up needing help, and they’re out of it in 15 to 20 seconds,” said Anchorage TRACON (A11) member John Newcomb (pictured at left above), a second-generation controller who was a member of the 235th Air National Guard ATC Squadron before starting his Federal Aviation Administration career in 2014. “Other times, like this situation where it’s prolonged, you’re getting PIREPs from other airplanes and ground facilities, or from other pilots who are climbing out, descending in, or in level flight. But it’s not uncommon up here.”

On this particular Sunday morning, the VFR-rated pilot of a Cessna 172, N758XS, encountered IMC after departing Soldotna Airport (SXQ), headed to Birchwood Airport (BCV). Worse, the initial transmissions from the aircraft were garbled. Newcomb and his colleague from Anchorage Center (ZAN), Matthew Freidel (pictured at right above), worked with assistance from their respective facility teams to aid the pilot, including vectors and recommended altitudes.

In an area as vast as Alaska, controllers have lots of frequencies, but lots of limitations on their frequencies, such as line of sight. Mountains are everywhere.