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Transcript: Seattle Center Members Talk With the Pilot They Saved in Archie League Award-Winning Event

Pilot Tim:  So, I just made up my mind to just do the best I could, to do what they told me to do, and it worked. You know I mean I’m here to tell the tale, and I shouldn’t be.


Doug Church:  That was the voice of Idaho Pilot Tim Bendickson.

Hi everyone. I’m Doug Church, Deputy Director of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s Public Affairs Department, and welcome to the NATCA Podcast.

We brought Tim together virtually with the five Seattle Center Air Traffic Controllers, who worked as a team to save his life on the Saturday afternoon before Thanksgiving in 2019. Today’s podcast is my conversation with the group and it’s truly special. Those Controllers, Byron Andrews, Josh Fuller, Brian Hach, Ryan Jimenez, and Michael Sellman have won NATCA’s 2020 Archie League Medal of Safety Award for the Northwest Mountain Region.

Tim is a VFR rated Cessna 182 Skylane Pilot. He had departed Boundary County Airport on what was supposed to be a 40-minute flight to the Southwest, back to his home airport in Priest River, Idaho.

Instead, he immediately encountered fog and severe icing conditions, typical for that time of year. He even ended up in Canadian airspace. Tim, knowing he could not find his own way back to the airport, called Seattle Center. He said, I just almost hit another mountain. I don’t know where I am.

That began a two-hour long flight assist. Here is that story.

Doug Church:  Let’s start by just going kind of around the horn and everybody sort of introducing themselves, and saying a little bit about yourself and your career for the guys, the Controllers, a little bit about your background and career and how you arrived at Seattle Center and for how long you’ve worked there. So, let’s start with them and then we’ll go next to Tim. You know Josh, do you want to kick it off?

Josh:  As for myself, I joined the FAA in 2015. This is my first facility. So, I’m one of the more junior guys. I’ve wanted to do Air Traffic Control since high school. I don’t really know what got me into aviation, but I was always kind of fascinated. You know this happened early in my career. I [had been there] less than two years when this incident went down, so it was you know kind of a fun start for me at least.

Mike:  This is Mike. I’m also like Josh, pretty young in my career. I got hired maybe about a year before him. This is not my first facility though. I ended up being at HCF Center on Honolulu for the start of my career before I came out to [inaudible]. I think I was certified in [‘16] maybe when this all went down. But I was you know a Sector next to him, the other [inaudible] Sector when this all happened. So, I’m in the C-Area. Josh is in the other Area. It took a lot of people for this one. But yeah; I’m coming up on five years now–six years now, so–. I’ve been in the C-Area and like it.

I’m a local guy. I’ve been here a long time. I know the area pretty well, so I think that helped everything else and–

Byron:  Byron Andrews, 2013, started in the C-Area and I was–you know I was working in Josh’s D-side at the time. Seattle is also the first facility, and you know it’s–I don’t know if I have really much more to add than that.

Doug Church:  Brian, you want to go next?

Ryan:  Sure; yeah. I’m Ryan. I think I was the most junior person in this group here. I–Seattle is also my first facility, not originally from the area, but I think I’ve you know potentially found a home here.

I really enjoy working you know at Seattle Center with all these guys. It’s been a lot of fun and really rewarding.

Doug Church:  Outstanding. That’s great to hear, and Brian?

Brian:  All right. Hi; I’m Brian Hach, originally from the [MARC] Program 22 years now. I guess I’m one of the old guys. And one area, learned a lot from a lot of people, and just always been happy there, so–been working with a lot of different people and it’s just really been a great–a great career.

Doug Church:  And Tim, you had told me last evening that you have been flying for 10 years. Is that correct? Can you talk about your flying experience?

Pilot Tim:  That’s correct. I’ve been flying about 10 years. I got my pilot’s license when I was 58, a recreational flyer. I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. I just enjoy flying.

Doug Church:  So, let’s set the stage for our readers and listeners. This was the Saturday before Thanksgiving of 2019. Let’s talk about the conditions in your area, and Tim, why don’t you start us off by taking us through your morning and the flight that you had in mind and in which you had planned to do. You had taken off that morning from Boundary County Airport. And we’re talking about the far northern part of the State of Idaho, near the Canadian Border.

Take us through your morning and what your flight plan was that day.

Pilot Tim:  Well, the plane was being worked on up there at Boundary. And they told me they had it fixed and so, we thought well, you know we’ll run up there and grab the plane and bring it back home and put it in the hangar, because it was kind of a blustery day. Nobody was there when I showed up and I should have took that as a sign, but I didn’t.

But anyway I talked to Dave, who–which is the owner up there and a flight instructor and all of that, and–and he just–he had been taking a student flying, and they were–I asked him what the conditions were. And he said you’ll enjoy it. It’s pretty good. And so, he got–we got my plane out and I went over and fueled up and took off. It’s about a 40-minute flight from Boundary to Priest River where my airplane is hangered.

And about two or three minutes into my flight, well, maybe five minutes into my flight, I heard his student was making some touch and go(s) practicing, and she said, you know I’m going to call this because it’s getting smoky and it’s–the weather is not looking good. And I thought you know that’s a great idea. So, I turned around and was going back to the–the airport, and just got caught in the fog.

I don’t–you know I still to this day don’t know whether I’d been better to go south or [Inaudible] and maybe end there. But anyway, it fogged in on me, and I overshot the airport apparently because the next thing I know I’m in big trouble, not–I don’t know where I’m at. And what–fortunately, my instructor’s voice came into my head and just said fly the airplane. And you know I almost hit a mountain and dodged the bullet on that, almost hit another mountain, dodged the bullet on that, and I called back to Boundary and the–Dave, which was the owner there at Northern Air, said maybe try to find a road.

I said I see a road. I don’t recognize it. In the meantime, it’s just getting foggier and foggier. And he said, you better call Seattle Center. That’s what saved my life is he–it’s always embarrassing to do something like that because you don’t don’t want to be one of those guys, but anyway, I called them. And boy, I’ll tell you what; they were nurturing and–and just kept me calm and kept me focused on what–what my task at hand was. And you know I could say everything boils back down to my instructor that just said, first and foremost, fly the airplane. That’s what I did.

Doug Church:  Well, it’s just an incredible thing and as the story develops it involves a whole team of our Controllers from Seattle Center. So, let’s take the story from there at that point. When you made the call, who was the first to speak with you and what was the situation there in the facility as you ascertained what was taking place? I’ll ask the guys from Seattle Center to take us through there and the sequence of events and who spoke first.

Mike:  This is Mike. So yeah; it was a Saturday afternoon, game weekend going on for us at Pullman Washington State, which for us pretty much just means that our low altitude sectors which probably would have been combined most of the time were split. So, he had kind of Sector 8 all to himself, which is where he would have been.

In the northern half, our airspace is large in that it’s Eastern Washington to Western Montana, from the Canadian Border, all the way down into Northern Oregon and Central Idaho. And it’s a giant basin surrounded by mountains. And in the fall, it means that the weather changes fast.

So, it’s just a typical fall day with clouds and you know without the clouds it’s beautiful, but you can be in the clouds pretty quick. And so, we were running instrument approaches into Pullman for the Washington State football game. And again, when those guys are getting IFR off the ground, it means that it’s probably pretty bad over there. And it’s kind of hit or miss everywhere else in the Sector at that time, too.

So, I was off on Sector 18 and 9 kind of working all the normal traffic and then kind of doing some routing into Pullman, but Pullman was kind of off on its own, working some of the Spokane arrivals, and then up at Sand Point and Boundary County and Bonners Ferry, [pretty certain], where all that is just about non-radar most of the time if you’re out 7,000 or 8,000 and below. And our radio coverage is pretty bad. We have a transmitter that comes over from Kalispell and there’s a pretty good valley that if you’re far enough north, you can get us.

And I think that’s where Tim was when we first started to hear him because as he made his way further south, as we were working him further south, where we thought that we could get him to land somewhere, we lost him a lot of times, a lot of his transmissions and just because of the way our Sectors are down there. It’s very mountainous; you can’t see a lot on the ground there. Everything is non-radar for probably about four airports really. Everything Coeur d’Alene north is we treat it as one for the most part most of the time.

So, that’s–yeah; Saturday afternoon when he called up and he was talking to Dave Murphy to start. And he’s retired now. Yeah; once we heard him call up was when we started to get Byron down who was training on high altitude and then from there it just was kind of all hands on deck to get Tim somewhere safe, get him on the radar.

I think when we first got him on radar, he was actually in Canada by about 10 miles or so, yeah. That’s–

Doug Church:  So, was the radar coverage good enough where you could keep a good–a good eye on him even though the radar–the radio communication was spotty, or was both a little spotty?

Mike:  It’s both spotty.

Doug Church:  So, Josh, you come in. Somebody was–went around, it was a supervisor right, looking for anyone with pilot experience? Is that how you entered the situation?

Josh:  Yeah; my day was–was about to end. My shift was actually over. I believe it was going to be at 2 o’clock, and I had just gotten off position. And I hung out in the Control Room for a couple minutes because I was just speaking to the supervisor–a little longer than I normally would be there.

Two of the supervisors came running up from the back area and they were–they were just yelling for a pilot. And I just–I was like well, I’m–I’m a private pilot. You know what’s up? And they said that they had a lost pilot or something. I didn’t–their description was very brief, and you know I had no idea what the circumstances were.

So, I walked back there and I–you know I saw the radar target they had identified and everything. I asked them; I was like, do you guys want me to get my headset? And they said sure. So, I grabbed my headset and I plugged in. And my stomach was in my throat because I did not have any idea of what we were getting into, and you know this is not my area. I work in the B-Area. This is the C-Area. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of–of their airspace or anything. So, you know it felt a little bizarre at first.

Started talking with Tim a little bit and you know my first thoughts–I had no idea how widespread the weather was even. You know my first thoughts were let’s just get him on a heading, remind to keep his wings level, and you know we’ll get him to break out of the clouds. We’ll be fine. Well, he was pretty disoriented, and you know we have 12-second updates on our radar. So, I would you know try to get him going on a heading and keep the wings level and the next thing you know on one hit it looks like he’s going the right direction, the next radar hit he’s almost turned around 180-degrees.

And so, you know any adjustments that we make we have to wait 12-seconds to see if those adjustments are going to work out in–in all of this. It was probably a good five minutes before I realized okay; you know because these guys were pulling up weather information, they were coordinating, they were doing everything. About five minutes in, I realized okay; we’re going to be here for a while. And I asked one of the supervisors for a bottle of water and we got busy.

Doug Church:  And all told, we’re talking about a two-hour event start to finish. Does that sound correct?

Josh:  Right; just under two hours I think, yeah, or at least my involvement was just under two hours.

Doug Church:  Let’s kind of go around and talk about what everybody else’s responsibility was. We’re talking about an incredible amount of coordination through all the different checklists you have going on in these kinds of emergency situations. You know Ryan do you want to start by explaining what your–your role at that time and then how you got pulled into this emergency?

Ryan:  Sure. Yeah; I actually–my shift, I was working an afternoon shift that day. So, I showed up to work. This was already starting. I believe Dave Murphy and Byron were working Sector 8, talking to Tim, and I don’t remember if Josh had already sat down or not. I worked a High Altitude Sector and on the scope next to mine that I was combined up with, I used that scope to basically watch Sector 8 just to see what was going on. And basically, mine, Mike’s, everyone else in the area that wasn’t talking to Tim, our roles was try to keep that frequency as clean as possible, keep that sector as sterile as possible, so that there–minimized any chances of any interference, anything like that could you know interfere with what they were trying to do there.

So, I was talking to Salt Lake Center, coordinating some things for Sector 8, and coordinating with Mike on you know some of our arrival traffic that would have normally been worked by that Sector, and putting it on Sector 18’s frequency instead, and letting Mike work them in, basically just to try to keep Josh’s life as–as easy as possible in that situation.

Doug Church:  Mike, you were working the other Low Altitude Sector. Is that right?

Ryan:  I didn’t come off. There you go.

Mike:  Yeah; I was working the Low Altitude Sector and then yeah, once we kind of figured out where Tim was, I started working the South Sector of the South Section of 8 as well, too. And Byron did a lot of the coordinating for the rest of Sector 8 in real time with–because we were still technically open on 8, so Flight Services was calling for clearances off Pullman and things like that. So, he took the load off of Murphy, who was the actual Controller so–that was certified in the area that was there talking to everybody else normally. And then so Byron would clear guys off, and then they’d contact me, you know as soon as they could on my other frequencies, which are further away. So, there’s a little bit of a delay for that. But I was basically clearing all the Pullman traffic in and out, doing the coordinating with Ryan and Salt Lake, and all the other Approach Controls so that we overlapped just trying to find some VFR for Tim to get to.

And I mean he was–the closest we could find was probably down at Pasco Tri-Cities Area. I mean you’re talking 150 miles away and at best. I think Byron was looking for anywhere in Salt Lake and up in Canada. We went far. It took pretty much all the facilities that we touched.

Doug Church:  Just pause for a minute because anybody can jump in to answer this one, but when you see the situation the way it was, and what you just said kind of really struck me, VFR, the closest VFR weather 150 miles away–it’s got to–you’ve got to be thinking wow, you know this is a challenge beyond any challenge that you normally see. How were you able to continue to kind of go through the things and processes of working this, knowing you know that you had so many obstacles in front of you? How do you guys–how would you guys all work together to overcome that?

Male:  When they were pulling up all this information, I asked Tim how much fuel he had onboard. I believe his answer was somewhere around three hours or something like that, something of the sort. We weren’t worried about fuel, and I wasn’t worried about going home [Laughs], and that was it.

Doug Church:  And Josh, I understand you’re a former 911 Operator. Is that correct?

Josh:  Yes, sir.

Doug Church:  How does that play into your mindset as a Controller and remaining calm and having the calm voice that Tim needed that day?

Josh:  When you’re a 911 Dispatcher and I was in a pretty large metropolitan area, I have taken thousands of 911 calls that were pretty serious in nature. You know I’ve dealt with everything from someone you know who has just witnessed a murder to someone who just had been robbed, someone having a baby, everything you can think of.

So, at some point your–your body gets trained not to get–not to let your adrenaline get you too worked up. I guess–I mean that’s the real benefit of it is you know you maintain a level head. You can think through things and you can still be logical and do things without letting your nerves take–.

Doug Church:  I appreciate that answer very much. That really is just incredible. Byron, you were training a new Controller on the–on High Altitude. Is that correct? And then had to stop that training and then–and start working on this emergency?

Byron:  Yes. Yeah; that’s correct. I was working on one of our High Sectors training one of our–our newer guys at the time. And basically, overheard Murphy talking about Tim’s situation. And I just discontinued that and plugged in over there because the more people we got involved the better.

And at that point, I think everybody had kind of acknowledged that it was a pretty serious situation. And everybody in the area was involved in trying to find a solution which would result in Tim getting safely on the ground. So I hopped over there, and you know I quickly was talking to Vancouver and–or talking to Vancouver and talking to Spokane Approach about what sort of pilot reports they had in the area, what their weather looked like at the surrounding airports and such. And that was kind of my role there.

Other than that, I was just there. Because Josh wound up working the Sector so much, you know I was just trying to alleviate as much of the workload as I could off of him, and Murphy was still there as well. So, we just kind of took care of the normal that was going on throughout the Area while Josh handled the situation with Tim.

Doug Church:  All right; thank you. And Brian, talk about your responsibility as well and the things that you were working on.

Brian:  It’s just a normal Saturday and I showed up for work a little early. And the supervisor had said they had some difficulties in the C-Area. And they asked me if I could go down there and see what I could do to help out. And so, I kind of got there a little bit later, probably–knowing now, probably 45 minutes after the event was already going. And at that point Tim was pretty much holding headings headed southbound. I had no idea what happened at the Canada Border and all the challenges they worked through before that.

So, pretty much that was the point where I began to learn everything I could about the situation. And that’s probably about the turning point that I saw where we started losing altitudes and things kind of unraveled from there. But I had no idea how hard these guys worked as a team before I got there, so pretty awesome, just getting him back up and straight and level and pointed in a direction that they could help out.

Also, they had–I believe at some point, I don’t know one, the KC135 in reach was involved in there too, so they were also working on relay stuff even before I got there, I believe, so yeah.

Doug Church:  Yeah; I’m glad you raised that because I was going to ask as well as to what point in the situation that the Air National Guard got involved, and the role that you were needing them to play. What can you talk about–describe about that role?

Josh:  Well from–I don’t know previously to when I got there. I know they were trying to work on I guess getting him maybe possibly to the Southeast and that would have been a challenge with the terrain. And I believe they had IMC conditions further to the east, too. So, that kind of put a stop on that plan I think ultimately. I believe they worked their way northwest of where Tim was maneuvering. And they were seeing some ground occasionally. And I think at some point there I think with looking at the different weather options and whatnot, I think the plan generally was just to get Tim headed west.

And we had a big lake on the west side, warmer temperatures there, hopefully, getting him out of the ice, getting him some ground contact, whatever we could do, and it was just kind of a team effort, working with reach and just pretty much any conditions that we could get him into start being able to see again.

Doug Church:  So that was flight headed toward Fairchild Air Force Base. Is that correct, which is west of Spokane?

Josh:  Yeah; it was more or less, when I got there he was already more or less southbound, pretty much running a ridge Scotsman Peak. I’m not real familiar with the area there. I know it’s–it is a huge valley. I’ve driven–but to the east, there’s a lot of higher terrain, and I–at that point I’m pretty much learning the terrain off the sectional using every bit of piloting skills I had.

We had challenges knowing exact positions with the updates, using the overheads, just to kind of–most of the time I think I felt I literally had my finger tracking every update on the overhead and correlating the polygon with what I could with the sectional, kind of just mapping the terrain as we were going. Again, it was–with the turns and what not, it was–it was really tough, but you know–

Mike:  I can speak–this is Mike–I can speak a little more to the KC135 because I was the one that was talking to him.

Doug Church:  Okay.

Mike:  Yeah; he was coming in from the east and like I want to say it was probably about 15 minutes into it we started to think about seriously talking to–getting one of the Military guys off of Fairchild if we could and getting either airliner going in or a Military flight that had some time just to delay and fly around just to see if they could get ground contact or open skies anywhere that we could get him in.

And so, I worked him down into Spokane and I think I actually told Spokane to ship him back to me probably about 25 minutes into it. I’m like if he can get up for five minutes even and just go fly around and see if he could find something. And so, I took him back and I climbed him. I gave him a pretty big block and just had him delay and kind of took him on headings to where I think that I could still talk to him on my other frequencies and also get him low enough that he might actually be able to get low enough to find Tim some clear air.

And they were pretty limited on fuel at the time because of the weather that was even around Spokane because it was not great even in that area. But it was better than the alternatives that were up in Canada or out in Montana. So, we knew that we had to get him south and west to get him clear of anything. And so, as the KC135 was there, he was monitoring the 2395 frequency on his other radio. So, they could hear Tim talking. I was working him through, and I just kept trying to just figure out what–whether they–or not they could do anything for him, see if they could see the ground, and as they stayed up there, they were saying that their weather that was at Fairchild that they were getting from their Operations was that it was improving.

And so, I think that was when we really started knowing that we needed to get him towards the Spokane area and get him going that way.

Doug Church:  Hmm; Tim, let’s get back to you. There’s so many things to ask but I just want to keep it simple here, so we’re not on the phone for two hours. This is just an incredible story, but as you were–as you were talking to Seattle Center and they get you going in the southbound direction, talk about that communication and that mindset that you had hearing the calm voices, hearing you know the–somebody who had been–was a pilot himself; how reassuring was it? What are the kinds of things that you heard that helped you stay–keep–give you a sense that you were going to remain in control of the situation?

Pilot Tim:  Well, they–it was [reassuring] to talk to somebody to know that you know at least somebody kind of knew where I was and–and you know–. I mean they came on about every minute or so, or I don’t know, maybe every 30–I don’t really know how often, but just right. And they just kept saying just keep on keeping on. And it just seemed to go from bad to worse and then worse than that and you know I mean all the icing and all the things that happened, like I say, they were there and very reassuring. So, I just made up my mind to just do the best I could to do what they told me to do. And it worked.

You know I mean I’m here to tell the tale and I shouldn’t be.

Doug Church:  Had you encountered icing before in–in a previous flight in the past 10 years or was this the first time?

Pilot Tim:  No; I’ve never been up in weather like that. Like I say, I was on my way back to the airport because I just said I’m chicken. I don’t want to do this. I mean it was just–I’ve learned since then some things that the weather actually came down from on top and settled in pretty fast. If I had waited five more minutes probably to take the flight or ten, I probably wouldn’t have even took off you know. But it just looked like going down towards Sand Point was you know there was some scattered clouds and this and that, and again, I’ve beaten myself up all the time saying maybe I should have just kept on going towards Sand Point because I was probably only 10 minutes away from that, too, you know. So, it–and that’s kind of what I had in mind is to set down there, but like I say, the weather was pretty good, but then it just wasn’t.

So, I don’t know. The–like I said, they were just very reassuring and we can get through this and we did.

Doug Church:  One follow-up question to the icing components of this since this was your first time encountering that, what was that doing to your ability to control the aircraft, and what were the specific challenges that you had to face with that going on, on your wings?

Pilot Tim:  Well, I didn’t have an air speed indicator. It had frozen up. You know I’ve read some things about what happens when you get that way. Your brain just sort of shrinks in on what you’re doing, and I forgot that I had a Pitot Heat, or I could have thawed that out. But I didn’t know how hard I could pull back on the yoke to gain any of [inaudible]. I wanted to keep my airspeed up, but I didn’t have any–any idea of how fast I was going or any of that.

So, it felt pretty sluggish and doggy, but you know without an airspeed indicator to tell you, it’s kind of hard to know. So, I just kind of made my very best guess and pulled back when I could because they said we’ve got to gain–you’ve got to gain some elevation. And I think I gained a little but it–you know it wasn’t really mushy or anything. It was just in my mind that with the–everything the way that it was I didn’t want to stall out either because I would have no–I couldn’t tell at all if I was–. The only thing I could tell is that I was flying straight and level with the motor, you know. I mean that’s just the sound of the motor. I–and an artificial horizon and–and [in the doghouse there], I just–that’s what I kept thinking is I just got to do what they say and not stall it. That was my big thing.

Doug Church:  So, let’s take this now to the later stages and–and finding that VFR and you’ve discussed already you know working with the Air National Guard crew. Take us through putting together that–those pockets of–of VFR weather that you’ve been looking for this entire two hour event and making sure that Tim could get to reach that point. Walk us through now like the last 30 minutes or so of this event and what that entailed as your workload.

Byron:  Sure; this is Byron again. So, towards the tail-end there, because of the icing and the terrain, and the general area, to be honest with you, I mean we were–we knew that Spokane and Fairchild had improved, and we had–we had finally kind of gotten Tim pointed in the right direction. And the last 30 minutes was pretty hectic because of how–how the icing was affecting his altitude and how much terrain is in that area.

So, most of that time was actually spent just getting him pointed towards the lowest terrain that we had available just because of the peaks. We didn’t–but we couldn’t really control exactly how close he was to that mountainous terrain, but as we got him pointed towards the lower altitudes, we eventually got him over the top of the lake in that general area. And as he was losing altitude due to the icing, he wound up breaking out of the clouds right over the lake, just because the lake would be the lowest terrain that we have in that area. And as he broke out of–over the lake, that’s when he was finally able to go down and land, so–.

Doug Church:  And forgive my pronunciation, this is–we’re talking about Lake [Penderiah]?

Controllers:  Pend Oreille.

Byron:  Pend Oreille. It’s you know we were able to–Josh had suggested that we have him log in his GPS, so that was kind of the biggest beneficiary towards getting him pointed in the right direction, because Tim was able to kind of log that in. And we actually–Josh, do you remember what –did we point him at Pullman?

Josh:  I believe it was Coeur d’Alene.

Byron:  Coeur d’Alene; we pointed him at Coeur d’Alene, and that was–

Josh:  I think so.

Byron:  –kind of what got him pointed over in that direction. Lake Pend Oreille was kind of the–the saving grace there to get him away from those mountains.

Doug Church:  Ryan or–or Mike or–or Byron you have–you want to add to any of the–that narrative at this point in the–in the event?

Male:  No; I was on so long that I think they actually kicked me off position at this point. I think it was 2:20 or something at that point and they’re like you’ve got to go. So, and at that point I think he was–he was on south and over the Lake already.

Doug Church:  So how much further flight time was it from being over the Lake to where he eventually landed in Coeur d’Alene?

Male:  It was shortly after the time that he broke out over Coeur d’Alene that I believe we may have sent him over to speak with Spokane Approach. I can’t recall exactly how much time it was–

Male:  Maybe three minutes, maybe four minutes–something like that.

Male:  Three or four minutes, shortly after. I’m not sure if Tim recalls how much time that was. I do know that one of the biggest saving graces was just Josh’s constant reminder for Tim to keep his wings level and just fly the plane as well. So, that was a large part of that tail-end 30 minutes was just trying to keep the plane from losing too much altitude before we got him over to something safe.

Doug Church:  So then handing off to Spokane Approach, how much time then from that point to getting word that Tim had landed?

Male:  Maybe–maybe 15 minutes.

Male:  Maybe 15.

Male:  Maybe 15 minutes.

Doug Church:  What was that 15 minutes like at Seattle Center?

Male:  I’ll be honest with you; the best moment of–after that you know two-hour ordeal was–I’m not going to lie, I think that everybody in the room, the moment that Tim started icing up was just kind of counting down the time that we had left. But the moment that Tim broke out of the clouds over the Lake, I’m pretty sure that it just kind of washed over everybody that everything was going to be okay because once he got into that–the VFR conditions and he could start flying the plane without you know basically being blind and handcuffed up there, everybody felt pretty good.

So, I think that the euphoria hit for us the moment that he broke out of the clouds over the Lake.

Doug Church:  And Tim, what was that moment like for you? Can you even put that into words as to what that feeling was like?

Pilot Tim:  Well, you can’t describe it because it went from just being in the dark, soupy dark, to just all the sudden being able to see. And you know I mean it was just a relief because I knew then that I had it, that I was safe, if–you know if I didn’t ice up any worse or anything, you know I mean if I had enough power to get there, and I did. But it was just–it’s indescribable how you feel when you finally can see again and–because then flying has never been–flying in the soup has never been anything that I was even remotely interested. I’m not–I fly for fun, not–and that wasn’t fun.

Doug Church:  As I understand it, when you–when Tim landed, you all at Seattle Center, it broke out into some–some applause. Is that right? Can you describe that moment?

Male:  Yeah; I think it was–the applause happened when we–he–he had already broken out and we shipped him to Approach. And we didn’t have word yet. But I–I think we definitely–a couple of us unplugged and then you know there was some applause in the room. It was kind of cool.

Doug Church:  How long did this stay with you after that shift? It must have–it must have–the adrenaline must have continued to flow for–for many, many hours I suspect. Is that right?

Male:  Yeah; for myself it was quite sometime. You know a couple of hours with that type of–that type of energy, it definitely–I don’t know what the word is for it. But yeah; it–it certainly sticks with you. I mean you know I even had dreams about it and–and stuff like that you know. It’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking you know for yourself and–and thinking of things you could have done differently. And I–and I can list 100 things that I would have done differently this–if I’m ever in the circumstance again. But yeah; it–it definitely sticks with you.

Doug Church:  That’s interesting you just said that because it–in all the interviews that I’ve done with your brothers and sisters around the country in these similar types of situations, they–almost everyone of them says the exact same thing that afterwards you’re like, well, I could have done that; I wish I had done that. I guess it’s just the nature of your profession and the way that you approach things that you’re always considering what your options are in real time. And then afterward realizing what–what you may have been able to do for next time. Is that sort of what–what it is all about is being a Controller is always working and striving to be even better and–and if there’s a next time?

Male:  Yeah, and you have to weigh your options in some circumstances, too. You know I had to kind of think to myself what–what things did I want him to attempt to do? I mean at one point we tried to get him to set his altimeter and just giving him the altimeter seemed to distract the task at hand. And it you know put him disoriented again. I believe he made you know almost a 360-degree turn just from the altimeter setting.

So, at that point you know we wanted to keep it simple; you know maybe I could have incorporated a scan of other instruments or you know any number of things. But I had no idea what the–what the–you know obviously the risk was you know a crash; I didn’t know what the benefit would be of getting him to focus on anything other than just trying to fly the plane straight and level in the direction we’re trying to go, you know. And–and maybe there could have been other tools that could have happened, you know that we could have used to get him out of there quicker or you know with a–with a few extra hairs on our heads or something. I don’t know, but either way, yeah; that–that constant thought of you know could have done better, that–that definitely lingers.

Doug Church:  I want to leave it to–to–to all of you if you want to offer some–some sort of final thoughts to kind of close this up and things that I may have missed that are important to note to people to–to understand what this was all about. We can kind of go around the horn here. You know Ryan, you want to start that off?

Ryan:  Yeah; sure, this is Ryan. I mean that was–this far into my career and for many of us, the–the craziest situation that we’ve been involved with to this point. I just think it’s really remarkable that Josh and Brian were able to show up, plug in to the airspace that they are almost completely unfamiliar with, you know and just everybody involved had one goal and–and we were singularly focused on that trying to find Tim a place to land safely.

And then I just you know–I’m really proud to work with you guys. You know that was just an amazing experience to be a part of and especially because you know the result was what it was.

Doug Church:  Very well said; thank you. Brian?

Brian:  Yeah; once again, I probably want to say a shout-out to Tim’s instructor. When you figure a private pilot with maybe three hours of under the hood time in his life and he was able to keep everything shiny side up and Josh working with him was priceless. I don’t think–I would probably guess if Dave was here, he would agree. None of us probably would have had the same effect in communication that Josh did. And you know Tim did a hell of a job, a hell of a job making it all work–reach, for giving us the eyes in the sky, relays, everybody–the entire Control Room. It’s just one of those things where usually it’s not such a favorable outcome and just a really good–good way to end the day.

It was kind of shocking to me asking Tim when he landed and I guess the observers saw sheets of ice coming off the wings and I don’t know; flight instruction, Skylane–thinking of the performance of the aircraft and everything. And then we go from day into night and the situation is going down when fall is coming into the area is pretty remarkable. So, I can’t say enough–really glad working with these guys. It’s–it was just scary at times, but it was a really good experience for everybody, so–.

Doug Church:  Thank you. Thank you; Byron?

Byron:  Oh, I don’t know if I have too much to add. I mean you know it’s pretty remarkable to see. You know I would say you know if I was going to have any final thoughts it would be–if there are any other private pilots out there and they’re listening to the podcast or the interview, it would be just to–remind them that if you do decide to pursue flying, maybe consider getting that IFR pilot’s license. It really gives us as Controllers amazing tools to help you out in a situation like this, and never be afraid to call us if you need help. That would be it.


Doug Church:  That’s great advice; absolutely. Thank you and Mike?

Mike: You know it’s not a lot that you get the type–the fulfillment in the job that you got out of a scenario like this. Rarely do we in the Center environment work with that kind of aircraft that much. You know usually it’s a sequence and–and we’re one of a number of people that is going to handle an aircraft you know as it moves across and you know. It’s weird to go home and just like–and not feel like we’ve done something sometimes because of the nature, you just hand the Sector off to somebody off and they keep doing the same thing that you’re doing. And it really hit home just how much we all can affect one person and the importance of doing the job and doing it well.

And I mean it wasn’t just one of us doing it. It took a lot of people to do it. And even in that small area and I mean it took facilities that are hundreds of miles away to do it. But it felt great. It got me through just like Josh said; it got me through a long, long time–until now, I mean even still, a year and what four months later–three months, something like that.

Doug Church:  Well, considering what we’ve all been through as a–as a nation and a world the last year, I suspect that maybe–even think it feels like it’s been even longer than that, but–Byron; thank you. Josh, any closing thoughts from you?

Josh:  You know this was an incredible thing to be a part of. And it definitely made me look better than I needed to even, you know. These guys did one hell of a job. The KC135 Pilot was as valuable as any player that we had in it. And Tim, I mean I cannot imagine the energy, or you know just if I could have been a fly on the wall in that Skylane that day I could not imagine what it was like. And he did a remarkable job just holding together and–and trusting us and you know he–he fought the fight. You know he’s the one who actually fought for two hours. We kind of sat back and watched for the most part. I mean there was a ton of work that put–we put into it, but he was the one who was actually doing the fighting there while we coached.

And it, you know I would not have wanted to switch positions with him. And just you know he–he really, it really helps me out a lot because had it went badly, had it ended badly, you know I don’t know how long it would have been before I could have you know come back to work. It would have messed with me quite a bit. It messed with me a bit the way it was even with such a happy ending, but–. You know that’s–that’s pretty much all I have to say about it is just everyone did a fantastic job.

Doug Church:  Thank you for sharing that.

Mike:  I’ve got one more thing to say. It’s Mike.

Doug Church:  Yes?

Mike:  I could not imagine being on that flight because being in the Control Room everybody could feel the weight of the situation. There was at least one or two times where we lost Tim on the radar and the radios, for long enough that we all reacted like we thought we were never going to talk to this guy again because of the coverage and the equipment up there.

So, we went through all those emotions multiple times when we were working–

Male:  Yeah; that’s true.

Mike:  –with him. I went home after. I think I worked one more short round and I went home because–yeah. [Laughs] I don’t think anything else needs to be said. It took it out of me.


Male:  And it’s such a positive thing. It changed the way–you know it changed the way I think, my mental checklist, when I have a situation that seems to be developing at work, it changes–it changes the way I train students now, you know our development of Controllers. It has just given me an entirely new perspective that you can’t replace that experience with anything you know. I’m just fortunate enough to gain some experience early in my career, you know as well as you know Ryan and Mike here, so–.

Doug Church:  That’s just incredible. I really appreciate all of you for sharing that. Tim, why don’t we leave the last word to you. I want to get some closing thoughts from yourself and again, my appreciation to you for being able to join us in this fashion. It’s just remarkable that we can get the Pilot and the Controllers together. It’s a very rare thing for us to do and I’m very appreciative for this opportunity. The last word is yours, sir.

Pilot Tim:  Well, if I had a last word to say it would be any pilot that’s in trouble, at any level, call these guys up because they’re there and I actually went over to say thank you in person to these guys because they were–. And I didn’t know how many people were involved. I thought it was him looking at a computer screen. And but I was amazed at–because it seemed like I did everything wrong and you know like I said it went from bad to worse, and I kept turning circles, and I–but I got over there and–and they said you did a really fantastic job. And it did not seem like it at the time. It just felt like that you know you were just lucky I guess–me.

When I landed the guy in the Civil Air Patrol plane come up to me and said, you did a hell of a job. And I just said, it sure didn’t feel like it. But again, my thing is just call these guys because they’re there to help and they’re not going to beat you up. They’re not going to chastise you. They’re going to–I was amazed that they just were so kind and considerate when I got over there to meet them. I mean like I say, I had no idea how many people were involved in that. So, my thanks and my gratitude and my family’s gratitude all goes out to these guys and what a fantastic job that they did. And I’m very appreciative of it.

Doug Church:  Well, just an incredible story from start to finish. And my thanks to each of you and to Byron as well for taking the time to take us through this. And I can’t wait to share this story with our membership across the country and–and aviators and Pilots. And you’ve given us a lot of good information that we can also share with our members who do a lot of Pilot outreach, a lot of educational stuff here, too, so thank you for that in advance. And so, good; thank you again.

Male:  Thank you Doug.

Doug Church:  It’s been an hour and I’ve–you’ve given me more time than I could have anticipated, so I really appreciate you doing that for me, so thank you.

Male:  Thank you.

Doug Church:  Take care. Tim, thank you again. Take care to all of you.

Male:  Thanks.

Pilot Tim:  Thanks, guys.


Doug Church:  Thank you for joining us for this conversation. I’m Doug Church and it’s our pleasure to bring you the story of this year’s best Air Traffic Controller saves. We’ll be with you again soon.

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