Western Pacific Region: Colby Alford, Matthew Cox, Dan Hauptman, Eric Joe – Las Vegas TRACON (L30)
Article by Robert Reddeg (Southern California TRACON, SCT)
On the chilly desert evening of February 15, 2022, NATCA members Matt Cox, Eric Joe and the training team of Dan
Hauptman and Colby Alford were having a routine shift at Las Vegas TRACON (L30). Cox was working the Granite sector when N77FH, a Beech Bonanza (BE35), inbound to Boulder City Airport (BVU), checked in VFR, and stated that he needed assistance.
N77FH was having problems maintaining VFR and had climbed into Class A airspace (above 18,000 feet). The pilot stated that he was at 19,300 feet, however his mode C altitude readout was not functioning. Cox identified the aircraft and accomplished a point out with Los Angeles Center to protect the area around N77FH since he was above Las Vegas TRACON’s airspace.
Cox asked if the pilot was IFR qualified, and the pilot declared that he was not but soon after N77FH stated he could see the ground and started a VFR descent. As N77FH began the descent and moved closer to Boulder City, he was switched over to the training team of Hauptman and Alford on the Daggett sector.
The pilot checked in descending through 8,000 feet, direct to Boulder City Airport. Hauptman and Alford verified the intentions of N77FH, issued the Las Vegas altimeter and continued his descent along with a vector to Boulder City Airport. Within seconds, N77FH turned sharply right of course raising Hauptman and Alford’s concern. At this point, Hauptman took over as the instructor recognizing something was wrong and he verified the assigned heading to N77FH, the pilot acknowledged, apologized, and turned back on course.
During this time N77FH encountered IFR conditions, lost control of the aircraft and became inverted, regained control, lost engine power, restarted the engine, regained control, and navigated on course with the help of Hauptman’s calm voice. Hauptman helped N77FH continue to Boulder City Airport but now the pilot was unable to see the airport due to his altitude and cloud cover below him. The team of Joe and others in the control room started using all their tools including additional aircraft on their frequencies to help get the lights turned on at Boulder City Airport since it is a non-controlled airport. As work was done to get the lights turned on, Hauptman continued to provide landing information and instructions until the pilot was able to locate the airport and land safely.
“Dan, Matthew, Eric, Colby, and Tyler’s actions and teamwork on Feb. 15 were nothing short of heroic. This event is a reminder that our members are constantly working to ensure that our National Airspace System is safe and efficient. Their actions represent the calm professionalism, skill, and training that is a hallmark of all air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals and ensured that Bonanza N77FH had a safe outcome.”
– Western Pacific Regional Vice President Joel Ortiz