Northwest Mountain Region: Morgan Farmer, Jake Zakrzewski – Denver Center (ZDV)
Article by Lydia Baune (Spokane ATCT, GEG)
Anytime controllers face an emergency, it can be challenging. In this case, an added challenge was that training was in progress. Jake Zakrzewski has been a controller at Denver Center (ZDV) in Area 1 for 10 years and is the primary on-the-job training (OJT) instructor for Morgan Farmer. Farmer has been in the Agency for nearly four years and had been training on R side for the sector for only one month when she and Zakrzewski helped N340JS, a twin engine Cessna 340, work through an emergency.
“Expect the unexpected. This should be the motto for Area 1 at Denver Center,” said ZDV FacRep Megan Nowak. “Area 1 has some very unique and challenging layers that add to its complexity. Mountainous terrain, unfavorable winter weather conducive to severe icing, severe turbulence, and IMC, on top of the traffic volume all play into the complexity of this low altitude sector at ZDV.”
On December 23, 2021, when Zakrzewski and Farmer plugged in to train on their first session of the day they were greeted with reports of severe icing and severe turbulence. Shortly after plugging in, N340J checked on. Zakrzewski and Farmer immediately noticed that he was having trouble maintaining altitude. They later determined that N340JS encountered severe icing, was unable to maintain altitude and descended below the Minimum IFR Altitude (MIA). Though the pilot never declared an emergency, the training team treated the situation as such.
“For me, as you gain more experience, especially working in a low altitude sector, you sort of have those alarm bells that are going off in the back of your head,” Zakrzewski said. “I knew there was lower terrain to the north, so we started vectoring him that way as he was descending.”
Meanwhile, the training team solicited a base report from a United aircraft they were working into MTJ and knew if N340 got down to about 11,000 feet, they should get into Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC).
Eventually, N340J broke out of the clouds and reached VMC conditions, however they were not able to see the airport immediately due to a layer of ice covering their windshield. The ice gradually broke free from the windshield and other parts of the aircraft allowing the aircraft to regain positive control, get the airport in sight for a visual approach, and land safely.
“I am extremely grateful that this event had a positive outcome,” Zakrzewski said. “Bad things do happen. Pilots may know what to do, but they might not. If we are confident and calm, that might be all that the pilots need to help move them from one task to the next.”
When asked what the award means to them, Zakrzewski and Morgan were both full of gratitude for the people on their team.
“We have a lot of excellent controllers here at Denver Center. As far as NATCA, I’m extremely proud to be just a small part of this,” Farmer said. “We are in this together and I am thankful that NATCA is there to be that for all of us.”
“Thanks to the quick actions of Morgan Farmer and Jake Zakrzewski, the pilot of N340JS/C340 that was losing altitude due to severe icing was saved that day. We couldn’t be more proud of these two members as they displayed the best qualities in response to this crisis. They were calm, composed, and perfect in their decision making. We are extremely proud to have these two excellent controllers be the recipients of the 2022 Archie Medal of Safety Award for the Northwest Mountain Region.”
– Northwest Mountain Regional Vice President Alex Navarro III