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The NATCA Podcast: “I Just Almost Hit Another Mountain;” Seattle Center (ZSE) Controllers Save Idaho Pilot

As Seattle Center (ZSE) member Josh Fuller’s shift was ending on the Saturday afternoon before Thanksgiving in 2019, a supervisor from Area C walked through Area B urgently looking for anyone with pilot experience. A VFR-rated Cessna 182 Skylane pilot in far northern Idaho, Tim Bendickson, had departed Boundary County Airport (65S) on what was supposed to be a 40-minute flight to the southwest back to his home airport in Priest River, Idaho (1S6). Instead, he immediately encountered fog and severe icing conditions, typical for that time of year, ending up in Canadian airspace.

Bendickson, knowing he could not find his own way back to the airport, called ZSE. “I just almost hit another mountain, I don’t know where I am,” he said.

Fuller grabbed his headset, went to Area C, and told the supervisor he had limited pilot experience but not in a Cessna 182. He plugged in. “My stomach was in my throat,” he said, “because I did not have any idea what we were getting into. My first thoughts were, let’s just get him on a heading and keep his wings level.”

Fuller spent the next two hours working with fellow ZSE members Byron Andrews, Brian Hach, Ryan Jimenez, and Michael Sellman. It was an unforgettable team effort that saved the life of Bendickson, who was facing an array of challenges including disorientation that often leads to disaster for pilots. For their efforts, the five air traffic controllers have been selected as the 2020 NATCA Archie League Medal of Safety Award winners for the Northwest Mountain Region.

Listen as the five NATCA ZSE members involved in this dramatic, two-hour long event reconnect virtually with Idaho pilot Tim Bendickson – whom they first met in person at the facility after the event (before COVID-19) – and recount how it all happened. Click here to listen.

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