Central Region: Brian Magnuson, Kansas City Center (ZKC)
Article by Bryan Martini (Sioux Gateway ATCT, SUX)
On the afternoon of November 17, 2021, Kansas City Center (ZKC) member Brian Magnuson was working Sector 06 of ZKC’s Prairie Area as he has countless times before. This session, however, would be different than most other sessions working Sector 06.
N2RA, a Mitsubishi MU-2 enroute to Pueblo, Colorado at Flight Level 240 requested a lower altitude due to a pressurization problem. Immediately identifying the seriousness of the situation, Magnuson declared an emergency for the aircraft and descended N2RA to Flight Level 180. After coordinating with Vance AFB, N2RA was issued a further descent to 10,000 feet. As Magnuson points out, “Lack of oxygen is a very time sensitive issue, so we had to get him going.”
N2RA leveled at Flight Level 180 and Magnuson knew that the symptoms of hypoxia were taking effect as, “something wasn’t clicking with the pilot.” Listening to the recommendations of the area controllers who rallied behind him, Magnuson repeatedly transmitted “oxygen.” Another controller immediately began working to assist, taking care of coordination, while the controller working an adjoining sector helped separate traffic on the north half of Magnuson’s sector. A controller with pilot experience also came to back up Magnuson.
“The pilot reported that he was at Flight Level 180, and he did not sound good,” recounts Magnuson. He reissued the instruction to descend and continued to transmit “oxygen, oxygen, oxygen.” After descending approximately 2,000 feet, N2RA began making a steep left turn and looked to be in a possible spiral. Magnuson issued a 270 heading to stabilize the aircraft’s descent. The pilot began to regain control and corrected his heading. Magnuson continued to calmly instruct the pilot to descend and use oxygen, while another pilot on frequency broadcasted “Descend man, descend.” N2RA started to descend and as it passed 16,000 feet, “He started sounding better. He keyed up and it was the first time it sounded like I was talking to a pilot who was coherent.” When queried, the pilot stated he intended to continue to Pueblo, where he landed safely.
After N2RA’s safe arrival in Pueblo, the pilot called ZKC and expressed his gratitude by saying, “The controller that continued to talk to me in a calm, professional manner and kept telling me to descend over and over helped prevent me from passing out, and likely a different outcome.”
“Brian and the team from the Prairie area exemplify the professionalism, teamwork, and safety culture of ZKC. Because those traits are instilled in each team member, they’re ready for any unusual or unexpected situations and produce the best possible outcomes. These events that occurred on November 17, 2021, were no exception.”
– Central Regional Vice President Aaron Merrick