Great Lakes Region: Darren Groce – Indianapolis ATCT (IND) – retired
Article by Jennifer Malloy (Cleveland Center, ZOB)
On Sept. 21, 2021, one of Lift Academy’s aircraft (LTA47) departed from Runway 23L at Indianapolis Airport. Darren Groce was working the Departure East at Indianapolis Approach Control (IND), when he heard the pilot of LTA47 check on — “Approach, good morning.” After some frequency overlap, he heard the rest. “I have an ECU failure and lost my engine,” the pilot said.
Groce identified the position of LTA47 and responded with instructions to get the plane back to the airport. Groce quickly realized that circling back to land on the closest runway to them was not an option. They had just overflown Runway 23R, which was parallel to the runway they had just departed from but was closed for construction. A left turn back to land on Runway 5R also wasn’t an option because LTA47 would have conflicted with another aircraft that had just departed behind them. Groce determined that landing on RWY14 was the closest and most feasible for them.
Groce asked the pilot if they could make a right turn and go back in to Runway 14. The pilot read back, “Right turn, one four,” paused for a split second and said, “Uh, yeah. I think I can.” Groce could tell he understood, and that they were on the same page as he immediately started a right turn and headed toward the final for Runway 14. Groce observed that the aircraft had already lost approximately 500 feet of altitude from their initial check in, so he knew that time was critical in getting them back on the ground.
Groce coordinated with the tower as LTA47 dropped below radar coverage. The local controller yelled over to ground to hold everyone short since the engine of LTA47 was completely stopped and the aircraft was just rolling down the runway. Because of Groce’s clear communication, airport crash, fire, and rescue personnel were there to assist upon landing.
“I later learned from Lift Academy that the fuel pump gears on that aircraft had completely disintegrated, and there was no fuel going to the engine,” said Groce. “The pilot had no chance of getting the engine restarted.”
Groce’s quick action ensured that the pilot was able to land safely.
“Darren Groce’s quick thinking on September 7, 2021, was the determining factor that tipped the scales from disaster to miracle, as the pilot of LTA47 who had a complete engine failure upon takeoff was saved. We couldn’t be more proud of Darren who displayed the highest skills as he responded to this crisis. He was calm, composed, and absolute in his decision making. We are extremely proud to have Darren as the recipient of the 2022 Archie Medal of Safety Award for the Great Lakes Region.”
– Great Lakes Regional Vice President Drew MacQueen