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2005 Archie League Medal of Safety Award Winners

2005 – Winners of the first Archie League Medal of Safety Awards, honored on May 16, 2005 at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.:

Alaskan Region: Meaghan Howard, Anchorage Center
(Left to right) Alaskan Regional Vice President Larry Lescanec, Kristina Kurtz, and President Paul Rinaldi.

Controllers working at the Federal Aviation Administration’s en route centers pride themselves on a close camaraderie and place a premium on teamwork. Individually, they have a keen sense of situational awareness but are also cognizant of the big picture, even after aircraft are handed off.

These are traits taught the minute a new controller walks through the front door. For Howard, a 24-year-old developmental controller only two years into her FAA career, the skills she brought to the facility, combined with her training experience thus far, carried the day on November 3 and ensured a safe outcome to a potentially very serious situation.

Howard was working Anchorage Center’s Sector 7 radar position. A co-worker, Terry Tramp, was working as the interphone controller at the same sector.

Federal Express Flight 21 (FDX21) had just been issued a radar vector prior to a handoff to Anchorage approach control. The pilot acknowledged a clearance for a path of flight for “direct Yeska, direct Anchorage” and was transferred to the Anchorage approach frequency.

But for an undetermined reason, the pilot did not fly the direct Yeska route. The aircraft continued on a southwesterly heading, placing it in direct conflict with another aircraft, Arctic Circle Air flight 106 (CIR106).

CIR106 had just departed Anchorage International Airport and was at a flight level of 10,000 feet; the same altitude as FDX21.

An impending situation between the two aircraft developed. The controller was also working the final approach for Runway 6 at Anchorage International. If FDX21 had correctly followed controllers’ instructions to fly the direct Yeska route, it would not have become a sudden traffic problem for CIR106.

Enter Howard, who was certified on the Sector 7 radar position and grew increasingly concerned when it appeared that the aircraft were not separated.

Howard asked Tramp to call Anchorage approach and alert them to the two aircraft’s perilous course at the same altitude. Tramp made the call and the Anchorage approach controller took immediate action to separate the aircraft and avoided a potentially serious incident.

Dan Mawhorter, manager of quality assurance staff in the FAA’s Western En Route and Oceanic Operations, wrote a message to other FAA officials, praising Howard’s work to ensure safety with quick thinking and dedication.

“This was an excellent example of paying attention even after completing a handoff and communication change, instead of just dropping the data block,” Mawhorter wrote. “The teamwork both at the sector and between the center and approach control was equally superb.”

Concluded Mawhorter: “Both of these controllers accomplished the extra step necessary to ensure safety.”

Rick Thompson
Alaskan Regional Vice President

I am proud to salute the inaugural Archie League Medal of Safety Award winner from the Alaskan Region, Meaghan Bradley from Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center.

Meaghan recently began her air traffic control career and rapidly achieved Certified Professional Controller status. She comes from a distinguished air traffic control and NATCA background. Her mother, Melanie Whatley, an Anchorage Tower controller, is a longtime NATCA member and former Merrill Field Tower facility representative.

Meaghan excelled at the University of Alaska Anchorage Collegiate Training Initiative program. She is currently training to compete in Alaska’s premier running event, “The Anchorage Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon” and is part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training to raise money for leukemia research.

The Alaskan Region is rightly proud of the outstanding example of awareness and teamwork Meaghan and also fellow Anchorage Center Controller Terry Tramp displayed in ensuring the safety of the ATC system.

Read transcript of event highlights.

Central Region: Mark Goldstein, Wichita Tower/TRACON
(Left to right) Central Regional Vice President Kevin Peterson, Todd Mariani, and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.

When Goldstein initiated his own investigation of a landing aircraft’s report of foreign object debris (FOD) on runway 1L, doggedly and efficiently determining the source, it may have seemed like an extraordinary example of a controller going above the call of duty. But not to Goldstein’s fellow controllers in the tower, who have seen this from him before.

“Mark is a very conscientious air traffic controller,” says Patrick Pelkowski. “He is extremely experienced not only as a controller but as a pilot. This dual experience has helped Mark to make numerous suggestions to pilots in distress and help many controllers who needed assistance.”

After the FOD report was made to the tower, controllers instructed a Wichita Airport Authority vehicle to inspect the runway and remove the FOD. The vehicle found parts of an aircraft tire and a white aircraft gear door. Upon hearing this, Goldstein asked the vehicle driver to bring the gear door to the base of the tower so he could view it with binoculars from the tower cab. Because he is a pilot, he was hopeful he’d be able to tell what kind of aircraft the door belonged to.

After examination, Goldstein determined it probably belonged to a regional jet and began calling the companies at the airport that fly this type of aircraft. When he talked to officials at Atlantic Southeast Airlines, they determined that their aircraft had white gear doors and that one of their flights had taken off for Atlanta just shortly before the FOD was discovered on the runway.

Mystery solved. But now there was the urgent need to get word to pilots of the flight about their damaged aircraft.

Goldstein called the Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZKC) watch supervisor’s desk and asked them to contact the Atlantic Southeast Flight (CAA177) and advise them of the situation. The ZKC traffic management unit contacted the company and also relayed the information to the pilot through the assistance of Memphis Center, whose airspace the aircraft had entered by this point.

The pilot indicated that he was not aware of any problems with his flight. But as a precaution, the flight declared an emergency and, fortunately, safely landed in Atlanta. During a post-flight inspection, the airline discovered the plane had blown a tire, was missing a gear door and suffered damage to a wing flap.

Goldstein’s work earned him recognition from Federal Aviation Administration officials in Wichita, who wrote: “Mr. Goldstein’s professionalism and willingness to go above and beyond reflect credit upon him and exemplify the highest of aviation service.”

Pelkowski says the recognition is well-deserved and long-awaited.

“Mark is always focused on his work and it shows as he is one of the most efficient air traffic controllers I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” Pelkowski stated. “We’re happy to be able to recognize Mark for his career-long dedication to maintaining the safety of the flying public.”

John Tune  
Central Regional Vice President

Mark Goldstein, 43 years old, started his air traffic control career with the U.S. Navy in 1981. After serving five years, he was hired by the FAA and went to work in Salina, Kan., in 1987. Mark transferred to Wichita Tower in 1989 and has been a great addition to the air traffic control team.

Mark has an extensive background in aviation and is considered to be a conscientious air traffic controller. He is a private, instrument, commercial, and multi-engine rated pilot with a degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He has used this experience to assist numerous pilots and his fellow controllers. I am proud that Mark is currently serving on the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s Central Region Runway Safety Action Team.

Not only is Mark safety-minded but he’s also civic-minded. His interests include golf, dirt bike riding, flying, and hockey. Mark loves hockey so much he has volunteered his time to share his knowledge and talent to young hockey players by coaching.

Mark is one of the many air traffic controllers who are ordinary individuals doing extraordinary jobs. His willingness to go above and beyond what is expected has provided the flying public and system users with exemplary service. I am very proud to salute a very deserving winner of the Archie League Medal of Safety.

Read the transcript of the event highlights.

Eastern Region: Scott Dittamo, Newark Tower
(From left to right) Eastern Regional Vice President Phil Barbarello, Matt Reed, and President Paul Rinaldi.

Phil Barbarello
Eastern Regional Vice President
In our business, the difference between safety and disaster is often a matter of seconds. The focus and skill shown by two consummate professionals, Scott Dittamo of Newark Tower and Greg Horne of Washington Dulles Tower have made that crucial difference.

Scott, a 29-year-old developmental controller, showed the calm focus and presence of mind to notice a very unusual occurrence and alert a commercial aircraft on a short final that it had no landing gear extended, thus averting disaster. This is all the more noteworthy since Scott was training and was, therefore, under a lot of pressure to recognize and respond quickly and correctly to a number of situations new to him on the local control position. Greg, a veteran controller, stopped a small plane from entering a runway where another plane was landing. At one of the busiest towers in the region, his quick and decisive action was made without the luxury of time to consider options. 

It gives me tremendous pride and pleasure to see Scott and Greg represent our region in the first Archie League awards program because they embody the very best in our profession.

View a transcript of event highlights.

Eastern Region: Greg Horne, Washington Dulles Tower
(From left to right) Great Lakes Regional Vice President Bryan Zilonis, Steve McGreevy, Guy Lieser, and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.

Phil Barbarello
Eastern Regional Vice President
In our business, the difference between safety and disaster is often a matter of seconds. The focus and skill shown by two consummate professionals, Scott Dittamo of Newark Tower and Greg Horne of Washington Dulles Tower have made that crucial difference.

Scott, a 29-year-old developmental controller, showed the calm focus and presence of mind to notice a very unusual occurrence and alert a commercial aircraft on a short final that it had no landing gear extended, thus averting disaster. This is all the more noteworthy since Scott was training and was, therefore, under a lot of pressure to recognize and respond quickly and correctly to a number of situations new to him on the local control position. Greg, a veteran controller, stopped a small plane from entering a runway where another plane was landing. At one of the busiest towers in the region, his quick and decisive action was made without the luxury of time to consider options. 

It gives me tremendous pride and pleasure to see Scott and Greg represent our region in the first Archie League awards program because they embody the very best in our profession.

Read a transcript of the event highlights.

Great Lakes Region: Dan Hemenway, Madison Tower/TRACON
(From left to right) Great Lakes Regional Vice President Bryan Zilonis, Steve McGreevy, Guy Lieser, and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.

Dan Hemenway was in the midst of a routine Thursday afternoon in the radar room at Madison Tower, handling the usual assortment of aircraft and building up a smooth rhythm, even tapping out a few beats with his fingers on the console between radio transmissions. But as every controller knows, an emergency situation is as close as the next voice you hear on the frequency.

For Hemenway, on this day, it was a female pilot’s voice aboard a single engine Cirrus SR22 – call sign N678DF – headed north to Madison from Rockford, Ill.

“Eight Delta Foxtrot, room for you at four thousand also,” Hemenway told the pilot as he worked the aircraft into an altitude that was filling up before setting it up for an approach.

But Hemenway had a comfortable load of other traffic to handle as well. “Jet Blue 2898, contact Chicago Center 133.3. Navajo four-three-Mike fly heading one-one-zero. Northwest one-eight-six, contact Milwaukee Approach 126.5. Good day.”

Then the Cirrus received attention again.

Hemenway: Cirrus eight-Delta-Foxtrot, turning left heading three-one-zero. Cirrus eight-Delta-Foxtrot, descend and maintain two thousand, seven hundred. Cirrus eight-Delta-Foxtrot, turn left heading two-eight zero.

Hemenway issued two instructions for left turns before clearing the aircraft for an instrument landing system approach into Runway 18. Everything appeared to be normal. Hemenway asked the pilot for another left turn, maintaining an altitude of 2,700 feet.

There was silence on the frequency. After a short period of time, Hemenway heard several short, strained breaths. It sounded like someone holding a microphone into the air on a windy day.

“Cirrus eight-Delta-Foxtrot, low altitude alert,” Hemenway told the pilot in a calm, clear voice. “Check your altitude immediately. You’re supposed to be at 2700.”

Hemenway: Eight-Delta-Fox, say your altitude?

N678DF: Eight-Delta-Fox, going through one thousand.

On his radar scope, Hemenway saw the altitude of the aircraft display “xxx” because it was in such a steep descent. His voice suddenly became stern and louder.

Hemenway: Eight-Delta-Foxtrot, climb!

N678DF: It went nuts.

Hemenway: Two thousand seven hundred, eight-Delta-Foxtrot. Say your altitude now?

N678DF: Two thousand five hundred.

She then reported to Hemenway that she had stabilized the aircraft. Disaster was averted, but not before the aircraft got within 100 feet of the ground in instrument flight rules conditions that included 200-foot ceilings and 1.5 miles visibility at the airport.

The pilot stated that she had disengaged the autopilot and the plane “just went nuts.” She said she wanted to return to Rockford, so Hemenway got her on her way, climbing the aircraft to 7,000 feet. By this time, his calm voice and soothing rhythm had returned.

Madison controller Kristin Danninger said she nominated Hemenway for the award because he issued the climb warning in clear terms in time to ensure a safe outcome for the aircraft.

“There are many times we as controllers stop to evaluate the conditions, the alarms, and a number of other factors before we speak,” Danninger said. “In this case, Dan had no time to evaluate whether the low altitude alert was simply the display showing an erroneous altitude or whether it was legitimate. He was decisive and reacted in a way that caused the pilot to immediately start a climb to a safe altitude.”

Concluded Danninger: “I personally believe that Dan saved at least one life that day with his quick reaction.”

Read a transcript of the event highlights.

New England Region: Ken Hopf, Boston TRACON
(Left to right): New England Regional Vice President Mike Robicheau, pilot Janice Peaslee, Chris Henchey, and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.

It was the call no controller ever wants to receive. A panic-stricken voice from aboard an aircraft in trouble crackles over the frequency. The pilot is unconscious. And neither of the two passengers holds a pilot’s license.

But that was precisely the situation presented to Hopf as he worked the flight data Manchester position, which is also responsible for issuing instrument flight rules clearances and releases off of uncontrolled satellite airports. Just after 4 p.m., he received a call on the clearance delivery frequency from Jennifer Truman, aboard a single engine 1988 Piper Malibu that had just taken off from Laconia Airport in central New Hampshire.

Truman requested immediate assistance. The pilot, her father William, was incapacitated. Her mother, Diana, was tending to him.

Hopf located the aircraft on his radar scope and then put his 22 years of controller experience – along with his knowledge as a Certified Flight Instructor – to work.

“I tried to calm her down and determine her ability to fly the plane. She said that she had flown a Piper Cherokee before, but had never flown the Malibu,” Hopf stated. “I assigned her some headings to fly. Her ability to do so and maintain altitude demonstrated to me as a flight instructor she had the ability to fly the plane. She just needed help landing it.”

Hopf’s colleague at Boston TRACON, Bob Romano, said Hopf’s calm voice had an immediate effect on Truman and she was better able to focus on piloting the complex aircraft despite the traumatic circumstances. Hopf talked with Truman about the best place to land and she decided it should be Laconia because of her familiarity with the area and the runway.

Hopf spent the next 15 minutes working with Truman to prepare the plane for landing.

“Getting the landing gear down and speed control were the most important things,” he remarked. “She was very confident in her ability to fly headings and maintain altitude. I had to try to keep things simple; I didn’t want to get too technical and overwhelm her.”

“Then,” Hopf added, “her mother became incapacitated. I no longer felt I had the time to work with her on speed control. I just needed to get her to the airport. I asked her to open a vent or window because it sounded like carbon monoxide poisoning. I turned the plane on a base leg and started her descent explaining the use of the throttle to slow the plane down. We also talked about what to do when the plane lands; to use the brakes and stop the engine. She slowed the plane up and descended and leveled off without any problems. I felt very confident at this point that if we got her lined up with the runway, that she could land the plane.”

Truman then reported the airport within sight. “I was trying to listen to her voice to see if I detected any signs of it becoming slow,” Hopf commented. “I asked her to slow the plane some more and line it up with the runway.”

When Truman was on short final, Hopf asked her to tell him when she was on the ground. A few moments later, that transmission arrived as music to Hopf’s ears.

“At that point, she broke down. I mean, I could tell her emotions just totally took over,” Hopf said. On the frequency, the relief in Truman’s voice was palpable: “Thank you very much. There’s the fire department. Thank you very much.”

Concluded Hopf: “You think back of all the things that could have went wrong. I mean, this was a case where everything went right. Everything just was perfect.”

Mike Blake
New England Regional Vice President

When you meet Ken Hopf, you immediately understand why he is not only a deserving, but likable honoree in this, the first Archie League awards program.  A calming nature, engaging personality and infectious sense of humor help to ease co-workers and pilots alike. I remember first meeting Ken 21 years ago at Boston Center.  He made the impossible happen for me, even back then, when he could make me laugh as the lowliest developmental, encouraging me to succeed. Heck, I even think I looked forward to coming to work.

Ken is an Air Force veteran, having worked as a crew chief on F-4 Phantoms at Nellis AFB in Nevada. He was initially hired by the Federal Aviation Administration as an Airways Facilities technician and worked at Providence, R.I., for several years. Ken then transferred into air traffic, working at Boston Center, Groton Tower, Worcester Tower, Manchester Tower and now at Boston Consolidated TRACON.

Ken’s love for aviation is well-known. As a private pilot, flight instructor and air traffic controller, he has shared his love with many others. He has exceptional knowledge on aircraft systems and airmanship. Ken is deeply involved in his flying club, and, in fact, maintains the club’s aircraft.

Ken and his wife, Kathy, live in Bow, N.H., where they raised two grown daughters, Annie and Mary, in a house that Ken built. He is an avid snowboarder as well. One of my favorite things that I heard about was that Ken’s personable nature has earned him the nickname “Mr. Wonderful” by Kathy’s co-workers!

Read a transcript of event highlights.

AOPA: AOPA member wins controller union’s highest honor

Northwest Mountain Region: Allan Blair, Portland, Ore., TRACON, and Brian Miller, Portland, Ore., Tower
(From left to right) Northwest Mountain Regional Vice President Jim Ullmann, Charlie Rohrer, and President Paul Rinaldi.

The pilot of the Beechcraft Bonanza found himself stuck above a thick cloud layer east of Portland, on the final moments of a lengthy flight from California. He had three passengers on board, no working transponder, and very little fuel. Fortunately, however, he had Portland controllers Allan Blair and Brian Miller on the other end of his radio.

Miller, working the local controller position in the Portland control tower, took the call when the pilot reported his dangerous predicament and requested an emergency landing. Without the transponder, Miller used position reports and aircraft turns to identify the Beechcraft on the tower’s radar scope and determined it was near Sandy, Ore., far enough away from the airport to warrant control from the Portland TRACON.

On initial contact with Blair, the pilot requested an emergency descent through the clouds. Responding to Blair’s inquiry, the pilot reported an altitude of 4,000 feet.

Blair asked the pilot for his fuel status. The answer was ominous… 10 minutes left. Blair informed him he was directly over Troutdale Airport and that there were no visual flight rules weather reports within a 10-minute flight area. Blair then asked him if he and the aircraft could accept an instrument landing system approach. The answer was, again, ominous. The aircraft didn’t have the instruments necessary for instrument flight rules flight.

So Blair then issued the pilot several advisories. Portland Airport’s latest weather was a 400-foot ceiling and five miles visibility. The minimum safe altitude in the area was 2,000 feet. Blair also gave the pilot initial vectors to the airport.

Coordinating with the tower, Blair determined that Runway 28L provided the pilot the best possibility of seeing the runway lights, which tower controllers turned on to full brightness, along with the approach lights. Blair then gave the pilot an update on the aircraft’s position and asked if he could see the airport. The pilot responded, “negative.”

Blair issued a minor heading correction and, after discovering the pilot had a GPS receiver on board, gave a vector for a GPS overlay approach to Runway 28L, saying that he would talk him through it. But the pilot responded that it appeared his GPS had quit. Furthermore, he transmitted, “I think I’m out of fuel,” and said he was heading straight in.

On the ground, all departures and arrivals were held and the airport’s fire and rescue squads were readied.

Blair issued a heading directly at the closest runways, advising the pilot he was one mile east of the airport, lined up with Runway 28L, and followed it up with several position reports. Since no altitude readout was available, Blair again asked the pilot for his altitude. The answer: 3,100 feet – too high to land on Runway 28L.

Blair recommended the pilot circle north over the airfield since it appeared he was about to fly over it. He asked for the number of people on board. Answer: Three. By this time, the aircraft had descended to 2,000 feet. The pilot then reported his heading and asked if there was any runway left, meaning he had overflown the entire runway.

Then, Blair advised the pilot he had lost positive radar identification, but using the last heading and speed of the aircraft, Blair told the pilot he was probably a mile and a half south of the airport and should turn north to approach runway 3.

After issuing another heading and requesting the aircraft’s altitude, Blair received the last transmission from the pilot: “Five hundred.” But Blair’s last instruction positioned the aircraft over the Runway 3 approach end and allowed the pilot to see the runway edge lights.

Several anxious seconds later, Blair received the joyous news from the tower: Safe landing!

Carol Branaman
Northwest Mountain Regional Vice President

Skill, knowledge and clear and creative thinking made the difference between disaster and a very merry Christmas for the pilot and passengers of Bonanza 8604M, courtesy of a team of controllers at Portland Tower and TRACON, headed by Allan Blair and Brian Miller.

On December 23, 2004, the Bonanza pilot and two passengers found themselves above the clouds with 10 minutes of fuel and no instruments necessary for IFR flight.  While Allan fine-tuned his virtuoso performance through a series of sound and creative plan changes based on the changing scenario, Brian and the tower controller team played the crucial supporting role by clearing the airport for an arrival on any of its runways.

Allan and Brian exemplify the skill, judgment and flexibility that is the hallmark of an occupation filled with people who do extraordinary things routinely.  Thank you to the special team of professional controllers at Portland who gave the gift of life just in time for Christmas! You rock!!

Read transcript of event highlights.

Southern Region: Cliff Murdock, Pensacola TRACON
(From left to right) President Paul Rinaldi, Lisa Grimm, Jessica Anaya, Brian Norton, Carey Meadows, Dan Favio, Nathan Henkels, Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert, and Southern Regional Vice President Victor Santore.

Cliff Murdock is a hurricane veteran and, as such, emphatically states, “I do not take hurricanes lightly.” As a child growing up in Pensacola, Fla., he saw the before and after of what Hurricane Camille did to Pass Christian, Miss., in 1969. As a teenager, he experienced Hurricane Frederic as it devastated Mobile, Ala., in 1979. In 1995, he was in Pensacola for Hurricanes Erin and Opal.

But nothing quite prepared Murdock for a face-to-face encounter with the devastating eyewall of Hurricane Ivan during the harrowing overnight hours of Sept. 15-16. The experience, according to NATCA Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin, “sheds some light into the courage, dedication, and skill that Cliff showed in the face of an event that put a very busy air traffic control facility out of business until Cliff led a remarkable comeback effort.”

Because Murdock was part of a team of Pensacola TRACON controllers and managers who stayed close by in the event the facility reopened after Ivan’s landfall, he joined with them to gather their families at the facility to ride out the storm. He cooked hamburgers for the group and then toured the facility with the operations manager, making sure all windows were closed and latched.

By 11 p.m., winds howled at 90 m.p.h. Murdock could taste the salt water in the wind – and the ocean is two miles east of the airport. At 12:30 a.m., with the winds well over 100 m.p.h., Murdock and two other controllers scouted the building for a status update.

Then, Murdock said, “in the loudest crash I have ever heard, a large section of the roof peeled off the TRACON and landed onto a red Saturn in the parking lot.” He then watched as the wind lifted a Ford F-150 about six feet, rotated it 90 degrees, and set it down on the roof debris.

When the storm finally passed, the cleanup began and Murdock spearheaded a heroic effort to operate a patchwork air traffic control system that allowed for the safe and efficient flow of aircraft into and out of the local airspace.

The storm drenched computers, radar scopes, and communications equipment, but a team of controllers, airways facilities personnel, and other Federal Aviation Administration employees, led by Murdock, set about restoring the TRACON to near full operational status. The facility reopened just 20 days later, with nine of its 12 radar scopes back up and running, inside a building outfitted with a new roof and a handful of other repairs.

As is his style, Murdock has been quick to credit others for their efforts while humbly deflecting attention away from himself. He said of his colleagues, “It’s amazing. Our local airways facilities personnel worked 24/7 to ensure that our equipment was restored to operational condition.”

During the reconstruction period, Murdock and TRACON controllers worked a two-position operation from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., using an extra radar scope up in the Pensacola Regional Airport control tower.

In addition, Cliff and other NATCA members provided generators and supplies to controllers who lost their homes. While taking care of his own personal family issues in the storm’s cleanup effort, he was part of a team effort to repair a major air traffic control facility in the Gulf Coast region, working day and night to restore the operation of the air traffic control system.

Said Marlin, who visited the region after the storm, “Cliff’s dedication, not only to the safety of his family and colleagues, but also to the flying public was on full display in a way that best exemplifies the very best qualities of skill and determination that I believe this award serves to recognize.”

View transcript of event highlights.

Southwest Region: Chris Owen, Fort Worth Center
(Left to right) Southwest Regional Vice President Tim Smith, Greg Fleetwood, Frank Fisher, and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.

In the service of air traffic control, failure is not an option. So with a one-day-old, critically ill infant onboard a Lifeguard aircraft en route to Dallas Love Field from El Paso, Texas, with no way to establish a direct radio or phone connection to Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, it gradually became clear to Owen, the aircraft’s pilot, and hospital personnel on the ground that the only link between doctor and patient was going to be Owen himself.

“Our medical crew was fortunate to have contacted Mr. Owen, who proved to be a vital asset during the course of this transport,” wrote Children’s Medical Center of Dallas Transfer Coordinators Jason Tumlinson and Amber Delaughter, in a letter after the event, praising Owen’s “adept skill and assistance. He became the communication liaison between the medical team and the physician at Children’s Medical Center during the flight.”

The hospital’s transfer team provides specialized pediatric care to a very large outlying community which it serves by plane, helicopter, and ground ambulance. These patients are often very ill and require a great deal of intense specialty pediatric care during transport. During this particular flight, the hospital’s communication efforts were hindered due to a lack of technology aboard the back-up Lifeguard aircraft.

When Owen received the radio call from the aircraft, it was over Midland, Texas, too far away to receive the hospital’s radio frequency.

Owen offered to relay the medical information to the hospital.

“We’ve got a great deal of information to disseminate through the frequency and didn’t want to tie you up,” said the pilot. Owen provided the local flight service station frequency in hopes of establishing the needed link to the hospital. But two attempts were unsuccessful. The news aboard the aircraft wasn’t good.

“If you would, please let Children’s Medical Center know that we have a very critical patient on board and we need a doctor waiting for us at the airport,” the pilot remarked.

Owen used a land line telephone to reach Delaughter at the hospital and tried in vain to establish a way for doctors there to communicate directly with the aircraft. The result of Owen’s best efforts was that the hospital could hear the voices aboard the aircraft but Owen had to relay information back to the plane from doctors on the ground.

Several times, communication was cut off to the hospital but Owen was prompt in reconnecting the line. However, with a fever that had spiked to 101.5 degrees, the infant was not doing well.

“I think things are going in the wrong direction,” the onboard nurse said. “Stand by and I will put the other pilot back on and perhaps you can help communicate.”

Owen said he continued to relay the doctor’s instructions through the pilot and, eventually, he remarked, “they told me they had gotten the infant stabilized. After a little while, the doctor was satisfied with the infant’s condition and left the phone to meet the flight at Love Field.”

The infant survived and, Owen later learned, was doing well.

“Mr. Owen was professional and courteous throughout the course of the entire event,” wrote Tumlinson and Delaughter. “In our field, we are called upon to help those individuals and organizations with medial emergencies that cannot help themselves. In this event, however, it was our team that needed assistance and Mr. Owen was there to provide the help in our time of need. Without the efforts of this individual, the patent’s life and well-being would have been at a much greater risk. Mr. Owen was a vital link in the care and treatment of this patient. We wish to bestow our greatest appreciation upon him.”

Darrell Meachum
Southwest Regional Vice President

I am extremely proud that NATCA is recognizing air traffic controllers with the Archie League Medal of Safety. As the first recipient of this award from the Southwest Region, Chris Owen embodies what it means to serve as an air traffic controller, and what it means to serve others through NATCA.

Chris is one of the most conscientious NATCA members I know.

His efforts on Sept. 27, 2004 were recognized by more than just NATCA and the Awards Selection Committee. Chris also received warm acknowledgements from the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, which issued a letter of commendation to the FAA affording him their “greatest appreciation.” The hospital advised the FAA that, “without the efforts of this individual, the patient’s life and well-being would have been at a much greater risk.”

Chris has been an air traffic controller since January 1991 and he currently works on the Glen Rose Specialty at Fort Worth Center. Chris serves the NATCA-ZFW membership as chair of the Membership Services Committee and in that role, he organizes the local’s annual holiday party and other assorted social events. Chris also serves nationally as a member of the User Request Evaluation Tool National Training Cadre.

I would like to add my thanks and congratulations to Chris for a job well done.

Western Pacific Region: Al Hurst and Ron Chappell, Southern California TRACON
(From left to right) Western Pacific Regional Vice President Ham Ghaffari, Tom Gallagher, President Pat Forrey, Neil Irvin, Executive Vice President Paul Rinaldi.

It was just another typically busy morning traffic rush at Southern California TRACON. The weather was clear. Air traffic controllers worked diligently to separate a heavy stream of aircraft in the area surrounding Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Nothing was out of the ordinary until two dedicated controllers – regular co-workers and teammates for over a decade – recognized a potential collision and took immediate action to avert disaster.

Ron Chappell was working the arrivals on final approach to Runway 25 at LAX. To his left sat Al Hurst, who controlled the arrivals on final to Runway 24 and had responsibility for traffic coming in from the east. That included SkyWest Airlines Flight 6100 (SKW6100), which had just taken off from Ontario International Airport for the short, 40-mile hop over to LAX and climbed to its prescribed altitude of 4,000 feet.

Chappell saw signs of trouble first. He was already busy maintaining separation for numerous flights when he observed something that just didn’t look right. Unidentified Visual Flight Rules (VFR) traffic was in conflict with SKW6100, located just 100 feet below SkyWest’s altitude. Chappell was certain the flights were on a collision course if controllers didn’t take immediate action to warn the pilots of the impending danger. He immediately notified Hurst, who had control of the affected sector.

“Hey Al, are you okay with that SKW6100 (4,000 feet) and that VFR at 3,900 (feet)?” he asked with urgency. Hurst was working on an Instrument Landing System (ILS) turn-on at the time, a complicated procedure requiring him to provide a pilot with detailed verbal instructions. With his hands full juggling the ILS turn-on and other traffic, the potential SkyWest conflict occurred in an instant.

Hurst heard Chappell’s warning and realized the gravity of the situation. “I knew exactly who Ron was talking about,” Hurst said. He immediately instructed the SkyWest pilot to climb if the VFR flight was not in sight. Right after issuing the instruction, the conflict alert sounded on Hurst’s radar scope, which warns him of a potential problem. Hurst felt good that he discovered the conflict before the equipment. It was, he remarked, a validation that, “I’m on this. I see the traffic no matter how busy we are.”

But SKW6100 had only climbed to 4,100 feet and the VFR aircraft was less than a mile away. Hurst issued another traffic alert to the SkyWest pilot with instructions to climb. The aircraft ascended rapidly as it safely passed the VFR plane off to its left side below.

The pilot, after acknowledging to Hurst that he did indeed see the traffic after the second alert, personally thanked Hurst for his attentiveness and the enormity of his actions. “We may have collided had you not said something,” he said on the frequency. “He (the other plane) was exactly at our altitude and crossed right through our path.”

Hurst, in all his years of experience, never recalls hearing a pilot say something like that. “That made me feel real good,” he said. “I told Ron about it afterward and he said, ‘Well, you climbed him, bro, not me; good call.’ But Ron was the one who caught the conflict and got the ball rolling to bring it to my attention. I wrote Ron up for a commendation and thanked him for doing that.”

The event lasted only for a moment but, if not for the professionalism and teamwork of these two controllers, the consequences could have lasted a lifetime. “Ron and Al worked as a cohesive unit and used their considerable skills to save lives,” remarked fellow Southern California TRACON controller Ron Geyer. “Their ability to maintain composure and make quick decisions in a stressful situation helped avert a potential catastrophe.”

Bob Marks
Western Pacific Regional Vice President

Ron Chappell started with the Federal Aviation Administration in 1988 at Burbank Tower, combining a lifelong love of aviation with a career in air traffic control. In 1992, he transferred to Los Angeles Approach and later followed the facility down to San Diego when Southern California TRACON was commissioned. Ron holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and enjoys flying, spending time with his wife, Bridgette, and driving dune buggies in the desert. 

Al Hurst started at Los Angeles Center, transferring to the L.A. Area at SoCal TRACON almost 10 years ago. “Big Al”, as he is well known at SCT, likes to play on Yahoo computer games while on breaks from duty in the union office. His screen name is “Bigal,” but he used to get interrupted constantly with private messages from interesting people who thought his screen name was “Bi-gal.”  When notified of his co-selection with Ron for this award, Al pointed out that his operating initials now stood for “Archie League.” 

Both of these gentlemen exemplify what this award is all about. Professionalism, commitment to excellence, teamwork, and remaining calm under pressure is what saved the day in this instance. It is a pleasure for me to congratulate both Ron and Al, as well as the other candidates for the Western Pacific Archie League Award, for jobs well done!

President’s Award: Ken Hopf, Boston TRACON
(From left to right): Patrick Eberhart and President Pat Forrey.

It was the call no controller ever wants to receive. A panic-stricken voice from aboard an aircraft in trouble crackles over the frequency. The pilot is unconscious. And neither of the two passengers holds a pilot’s license.

But that was precisely the situation presented to Hopf as he worked the flight data Manchester position, which is also responsible for issuing instrument flight rules clearances and releases off of uncontrolled satellite airports. Just after 4 p.m., he received a call on the clearance delivery frequency from Jennifer Truman, aboard a single engine 1988 Piper Malibu that had just taken off from Laconia Airport in central New Hampshire.

Truman requested immediate assistance. The pilot, her father William, was incapacitated. Her mother, Diana, was tending to him.

Hopf located the aircraft on his radar scope and then put his 22 years of controller experience – along with his knowledge as a Certified Flight Instructor – to work.

“I tried to calm her down and determine her ability to fly the plane. She said that she had flown a Piper Cherokee before, but had never flown the Malibu,” Hopf stated. “I assigned her some headings to fly. Her ability to do so and maintain altitude demonstrated to me as a flight instructor she had the ability to fly the plane. She just needed help landing it.”

Hopf’s colleague at Boston TRACON, Bob Romano, said Hopf’s calm voice had an immediate effect on Truman and she was better able to focus on piloting the complex aircraft despite the traumatic circumstances. Hopf talked with Truman about the best place to land and she decided it should be Laconia because of her familiarity with the area and the runway.

Hopf spent the next 15 minutes working with Truman to prepare the plane for landing.

“Getting the landing gear down and speed control were the most important things,” he remarked. “She was very confident in her ability to fly headings and maintain altitude. I had to try to keep things simple; I didn’t want to get too technical and overwhelm her.”

“Then,” Hopf added, “her mother became incapacitated. I no longer felt I had the time to work with her on speed control. I just needed to get her to the airport. I asked her to open a vent or window because it sounded like carbon monoxide poisoning. I turned the plane on a base leg and started her descent explaining the use of the throttle to slow the plane down. We also talked about what to do when the plane lands; to use the brakes and stop the engine. She slowed the plane up and descended and leveled off without any problems. I felt very confident at this point that if we got her lined up with the runway, that she could land the plane.”

Truman then reported the airport within sight. “I was trying to listen to her voice to see if I detected any signs of it becoming slow,” Hopf commented. “I asked her to slow the plane some more and line it up with the runway.”

When Truman was on short final, Hopf asked her to tell him when she was on the ground. A few moments later, that transmission arrived as music to Hopf’s ears.

“At that point, she broke down. I mean, I could tell her emotions just totally took over,” Hopf said. On the frequency, the relief in Truman’s voice was palpable: “Thank you very much. There’s the fire department. Thank you very much.”

Concluded Hopf: “You think back of all the things that could have went wrong. I mean, this was a case where everything went right. Everything just was perfect.”

Mike Blake
New England Regional Vice President

When you meet Ken Hopf, you immediately understand why he is not only a deserving, but likable honoree in this, the first Archie League awards program.  A calming nature, engaging personality and infectious sense of humor help to ease co-workers and pilots alike. I remember first meeting Ken 21 years ago at Boston Center.  He made the impossible happen for me, even back then, when he could make me laugh as the lowliest developmental, encouraging me to succeed. Heck, I even think I looked forward to coming to work.

Ken is an Air Force veteran, having worked as a crew chief on F-4 Phantoms at Nellis AFB in Nevada. He was initially hired by the Federal Aviation Administration as an Airways Facilities technician and worked at Providence, R.I., for several years. Ken then transferred into air traffic, working at Boston Center, Groton Tower, Worcester Tower, Manchester Tower and now at Boston Consolidated TRACON.

Ken’s love for aviation is well-known. As a private pilot, flight instructor and air traffic controller, he has shared his love with many others. He has exceptional knowledge on aircraft systems and airmanship. Ken is deeply involved in his flying club, and, in fact, maintains the club’s aircraft.

Ken and his wife, Kathy, live in Bow, N.H., where they raised two grown daughters, Annie and Mary, in a house that Ken built. He is an avid snowboarder as well. One of my favorite things that I heard about was that Ken’s personable nature has earned him the nickname “Mr. Wonderful” by Kathy’s co-workers!

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

BELOW: Watch and listen to highlights from this save event.

Honorable Mention

Alaska Region
Travis Williams, Anchorage Tower

Eastern Region
Dusty Boariu, New York Center
Jody Cook, New York Center
Herbert “Chip” Degan, Atlantic City Tower
John Higgins, New York Center
Steven Lund, New York Center
Susan Kelley-Marino, New York Center
Randy Throckmorton, Newark Tower

Great Lakes Region
Ronald Adamski, Chicago Midway Tower
Randy Kerr, Columbus Tower
Paul Khatcherian, Chicago TRACON

Southern Region
Robert Collins, Pensacola Tower
Bruce DeMotts, Pensacola TRACON
Howard Nix, Gulfport Tower
Tony Thompson, Gulfport Tower
Michael Williams, Mobile Tower
Marcus Palmer, Mobile Tower
Andy Cantwell, Miami Tower

Southwest Region
Natalie Moloney, Houston TRACON
Hugh McFarland, Houston TRACON
Michael Fountain, Houston TRACON

Western Pacific Region
Keith Bell, Southern California TRACON
Robert Fierro, Los Angeles International Tower

Media Coverage

National Public Radio