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2021 Archie League Medal of Safety Award Winners

2021 – Winners of the 17th Annual Archie League Medal of Safety Awards:

Central Region: Ingrid Owens, Brett Rolofson, and Taylor Rosenbaum, Kansas City Center (ZKC)

The weather conditions in Alaska are often poor, but they’re highly changeable. This can lead to situations where a pilot can encounter difficulty, especially if they’re not able to fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Alaskan Region air traffic controllers are keenly aware of this each time they plug in for a shift.

Podcast below: Hear Freidel and Newcomb tell their story, and discuss their efforts to guide the Cessna pilot away from trouble to a safe landing, in this episode of the NATCA Podcast.

Eastern Region: Jason Dunaway, Joe Mash, and Chris Rhodes, Potomac TRACON (PCT)

At Kansas City Center (ZKC), air traffic controllers on position have a list available to them of fellow controllers at work who are also pilots. If needed, those controllers can be brought to the area to assist a pilot in distress, including things like reviewing emergency checklists. Flying an instrument approach in a small, single-engine aircraft is a very high workload environment, and controllers who are also pilots understand this best.

Great Lakes Region: Matthew Wyrick, Indianapolis Center (ZID)

In the late afternoon of June 16, 2020, Matt Wyrick was working in Area 6 of Indianapolis Center (ZID) when the controller-in-charge (CIC), fellow NATCA member Rachel Gilmore, was contacted by another area that they had worked a Cessna 441 Conquest II (N441LS) minutes prior and suspected hypoxia due to the speech rate and intermittent responses from the pilot.

The pilot regularly flies through Wyrick’s airspace to and from their home base in Youngstown, Ohio. Even though he had only been a fully certified controller for a year and a half at ZID before this day, Wyrick recognized the familiar call sign but said this was the first time he has dealt with a case of possible hypoxia. He said he relied on his training. “There have been a few times during lab training in the past, but this was the first time in the live environment,” he said.

Wyrick, who is in the sixth year of his FAA career, all at ZID, grew up immersed in aviation. His father, Allan, was a longtime pilot for NetJets. Wyrick said hypoxia came up in some discussions between them.

“He never actively talked about it, flying with me, but for some reason I remember that he always told me to ask the pilot, if it ever happened, to look at his fingers. He said that if they were purple, that would be a big sign,” Wyrick said. “My trainers went through those situations with me when I was training and said the biggest thing they said to do was descend, and to use basic phraseology to do it; keep things really simple. That helped a lot.”

When Wyrick took control of the aircraft, his area was combined from three sectors to two, a common practice at that time during a period of reduced traffic volume just three months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My neighboring controller from Area 3 handed the aircraft off to me,” Wyrick said. “He called me on the landline to let me know that both he and the preceding controller from Area 7 were a little suspicious that he might be hypoxic because he sounded a little slow and had a bit of a slurred speech rate.”

Wyrick decided to get a feel for the situation. He asked the pilot questions about ride conditions and the weather and issued control instructions to keep him engaged. “His response was still a little slow,” Wyrick said. “It wasn’t enough to convince me he was doing OK.”

He knew that the pilot would be landing relatively soon but not soon enough to begin normal descent instructions. However, with the concern rising about the possible worsening hypoxia taking place, Wyrick decided to descend the aircraft two thousand feet, to 27,000 feet. The pilot read it back, slowly, but did not begin a descent. When Matt asked the pilot, he mistakenly reported he was leaving FL 27,900.

The pilot then started a descent but did not respond to Wyrick’s next transmissions for a couple minutes. Transmissions from the pilot sounded slurred at some points, and other points he keyed up and the transmissions were unreadable.

“It took so long for him to respond, and even when he was responding, it didn’t sound good,” Wyrick said. “Finally, I declared an emergency for him.” Wyrick kept descending the aircraft to get him below 10,000 feet. He informed the pilot there was no traffic anywhere of concern and gave him a pilot’s discretion descent. He complied.

Wyrick spoke with the pilot about his hypoxia suspicions and used an emergency checklist and information in the En Route Information Display System (ERIDS) to ask the pilot questions and understand what he was going through. Wyrick asked two separate times iif the pilot had oxygen on board and if it was working. The pilot responded that it did, adding that he didn’t believe he was hypoxic but rather was “really tired,” Wyrick said.

Several pilots who were on the same frequency and listening to the exchanges checked in with the Cessna pilot and told him to check his supplemental oxygen and make sure everything was working. Wyrick cited that along with many fellow controllers at ZID which he said comprised an outstanding team effort of about a dozen people, one of the best he has been a part of, he said, thus far in his young career.

“I had my CIC standing behind me and I had a good D side that was watching the rest of the sector, because in a situation like that, you tend to get tunnel vision,” he said.

Wyrick handed off control of the aircraft to Cleveland Center (ZOB) when it reached 9,000 feet. The pilot landed safely a short time later.

“Matt remained professional throughout the event and communicated well with the pilot,” Gilmore said. “The pilot reported fatigue, and that may be the case, but Matt did an excellent job of making sure he stayed awake and on oxygen. The aircraft landed safely at its destination thanks to Matt’s attitude of the importance of safety.”

Wyrick said he was honored and humbled by the award. “I was just there doing my job that day and I had a bunch of good people around me who were a huge part of the outcome. I really think the award is more a reflection of everybody I work with. I don’t have a doubt in my mind that any one of the controllers in my area could have sat there and achieved the same outcome.”

This flight assist marks the fourth time ZID members have represented the Great Lakes Region in the 17-year history of the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards, all in the last four years. Bob Obma won the award in 2020, Nicholas J. Ferro and Charles Terry won in 2019, and Daniel Rak won in 2018.

Listen below as Wyrick recounts the full story on an episode of The NATCA Podcast.

New England Region: Casey Allan, Boston Center (ZBW)

It was late on a Sunday afternoon, Sunday, March 21, 2021, and 15-year veteran Boston Center (ZBW) controller Casey Allan was conducting on-the-job training for fellow ZBW member Nick Schuler. With COVID-19 still gripping the nation and dragging down traffic volume and complexity, the facility took advantage of an opportunity to start training back up.

Schuler began working a Socata TBM-850 single-turboprop aircraft which was a familiar sight in their airspace, flying north-south routes. On this day, the pilot was headed north to Burlington, Vt.

“It was a pretty normal flight, headed northbound, and Nick decided it was time to start descending the aircraft, because there was a departure coming and he wanted to get it below (into Burlington),” said Allan, a native New Englander who grew up in South Berwick, Maine, just over an hour away from his current home in Nashua, N.H. But after approximately one minute, the pilot still had not started his descent. Both Schuler and Allan noticed that the aircraft appeared to be climbing instead.

Allan immediately thought back to when he was a trainee. “My trainer always quizzed me on ceiling altitude and speeds, so the second I saw it climbing at 31,000 feet, I knew the aircraft was already at its service ceiling. We knew right away that something wasn’t right.”

Schuler gave the pilot a descend and maintain instruction. But the response was hard to understand aside from the words “lost my pressure.” Allan immediately took over the sector and Schuler assumed the D side position.

“I believe he got up to 33,000 feet. He climbed pretty rapidly for an aircraft like the TBM, and it started a right-hand turn,” Allan said. “Once we saw the indication of a turn, my first thought was, ‘it’s going to go into a spin.’”

The aircraft was now turned around and headed south. It was only a few miles from the adjacent New York Center (ZNY) sector from where it had flown from, into ZBW airspace. “At that point, I just tried to keep talking to the pilot and tried to get him to stay awake as best I could,” Allan said.

Three separate times, Allan tried to get the aircraft to fly a specific heading and a specific altitude. But the pilot continued to descend lower than he was cleared. A rapid descent was underway and it alarmed Allan.

The pilot stated, “Eight Hotel Romeo is descending, I’ve lost my cabin pressure.”

Allan gave him instructions to descend to 10,000 feet, which would be the safest place to be to allow the pilot to regain enough oxygen to escape hypoxia conditions. It would also get him nearer the base of Allan’s airspace or at least get him to slow down his rate of descent.

At 14,000 feet, the pilot still sounded unintelligible. Allan tried to keep the conversation upbeat and normal. “In my opinion, I don’t even think the pilot knew what was happening on the way down, for the most part,” he said.

When the aircraft descended through 10,000 feet, Allan gave an instruction to descend to 6,000 feet, the base of his ZBW airspace sector. “He read that back and started to sound better,” Allan said. The pilot requested vectors for nearby airports. He was directly over Poughkeepsie (POU) at that point. But Stewart International Airport (SWF) was just 15 miles to the west. With its 12,000-foot runway, that was the preferred option.

The aircraft leveled off at 4,700 feet, in New York TRACON (N90) airspace, and was flying straight and level. Controller-in-charge Scott Elms led the coordination taking place to ensure the safe conclusion to the incident. Allan switched the aircraft over to N90, where controllers were able to guide the pilot to SWF. He landed without incident.

“We all worked really well together. It happened very fast,” said Allan. “It was probably no more than 10 minutes overall. But it felt faster than that.”

Allan said being honored with the Archie League Medal of Safety Award is a “strange, bittersweet feeling.”

“People have told me congratulations, but it’s a strange feeling because I don’t want to be congratulated for having this experience,” he said. “It’s just a strange emotion. Getting the award, I’m glad there’s recognition. It makes me feel proud and happy that I was able to do my job. You don’t want to be in that situation, but at the same time, knowing you can handle it makes me feel glad that I was there because it worked out for everybody.”

Allan is the 11th ZBW member to receive the Archie League Medal of Safety Award, joining Bruce Clough, Stephen Roebuck, John Therrien, and Bill Wood in 2009, Stephen Schmalz in 2007, Chris Henchey and Ryan Workman in 2012, and Jeffrey Aulbach, Neil Cóspito, and Michael Jacobson in 2019.

Listen below as Allan recounts the full story on an episode of The NATCA Podcast.

Northwest Mountain Region: Kevin Cleavland, Chris Keddie, Adam Schulte, Denver TRACON (D01)

At Kansas City Center (ZKC), air traffic controllers on position have a list available to them of fellow controllers at work who are also pilots. If needed, those controllers can be brought to the area to assist a pilot in distress, including things like reviewing emergency checklists. Flying an instrument approach in a small, single-engine aircraft is a very high workload environment, and controllers who are also pilots understand this best.

Southern Region: Noah Walker, Greensboro ATCT (GSO)

At Kansas City Center (ZKC), air traffic controllers on position have a list available to them of fellow controllers at work who are also pilots. If needed, those controllers can be brought to the area to assist a pilot in distress, including things like reviewing emergency checklists. Flying an instrument approach in a small, single-engine aircraft is a very high workload environment, and controllers who are also pilots understand this best.

Southwest Region: Joe Wright, Houston TRACON (I90)

At Kansas City Center (ZKC), air traffic controllers on position have a list available to them of fellow controllers at work who are also pilots. If needed, those controllers can be brought to the area to assist a pilot in distress, including things like reviewing emergency checklists. Flying an instrument approach in a small, single-engine aircraft is a very high workload environment, and controllers who are also pilots understand this best.

Western Pacific Region: Jeremy Hroblak, Scott Moll, and C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles ATCT (LAX)

At Kansas City Center (ZKC), air traffic controllers on position have a list available to them of fellow controllers at work who are also pilots. If needed, those controllers can be brought to the area to assist a pilot in distress, including things like reviewing emergency checklists. Flying an instrument approach in a small, single-engine aircraft is a very high workload environment, and controllers who are also pilots understand this best.

President’s Award Winners: Andrew Rice and Ryan Schile, Chicago O’Hare ATCT (ORD)

On March 1, 2019, after noon CST, Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) certified professional controller (CPC) Ryan Schile was working third local control and was departing aircraft off of Runway 10-Left at intersection DD. Schile was also working the arrivals that were landing on 10-Right and 10-Center. He worked them back across the runway he was departing to the terminal area.

“Needless to say, he was a little busy,” NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said in introducing the story to the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet on Sept. 18 at Communicating For Safety.

Schile issued a departure clearance to an Envoy Air twin-jet ERJ-145, with an initial heading of 100 and a takeoff clearance. This heading paralleled the departure runways and the arrival runways so there would be no conflict. The pilot of the ERJ-145 read back the correct heading and began takeoff roll.

Once airborne, for an unknown reason, the ERJ-145 began a hard-left turn, placing that aircraft in a collision course with an American Airlines Boeing 737-800, which was departing Runway 9-Right. Schile quickly recognized the potential for a collision and instructed the ERJ-145 to stop his climb immediately.

Subsequently, Schile issued an immediate turn to the right to a heading of 140.

Working on the other side of the airport was fellow ORD CPC Andrew Rice, who was working the American 737. He also observed the impending collision and issued the aircraft an immediate left-hand turn and a 070 heading. Seeing that was not enough, he instructed the aircraft to continue its left-hand turn on a 360 heading to pull these aircraft apart.

The Federal Aviation Administration measured the closest proximity of the two aircraft at .23 nautical miles and 100 feet.

“And that is only because these two controllers acted so quickly to pull these airplanes apart,” Rinaldi said. “Their actions on that day saved hundreds of lives.”

Schile, upon receiving the President’s Award with Rice at the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet, described the way he felt immediately after the event and the knowledge of just how close these two aircraft got before they were saved. It’s not something any controller wants to experience, his words indicated.

“Andy and I are deeply grateful, honored, and completely humbled to receive this recognition,” Schile said. “But respectfully, we hope to hell we never receive it again.”

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

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

Honorable Mention

CENTRAL REGION
Darrell Bott, ZKC
Joshua Haines, ZKC
Patrick James, ZKC
Philip Lapoint, ZKC
Javier Salmon, ZKC
Michael Schneider, ZKC
Derrick Willis, ZKC

EASTERN REGION
Bronson Burriss, EWR
Randy Throckmorton, EWR
Joanna Remigio, JFK
Gaetano Chetta, PHL
Adam Cohen, PHL
Matthew Bode, ZNY
Zachary Clark, ZNY
Joseph Lanzetta, ZNY
Richard Rogers, ZNY
Richard Soucheck, ZNY
Christopher Stolworthy, ZNY
Dominick Vernice, ZNY
Orville Whyte, ZNY

GREAT LAKES REGION 
Kevin Thornton, C90
Zachariah Schneider, MSN
Micah Bales, RFD
Jason Maurer, RFD
Wayne Short, RFD
Ranjit Shyam, RFD
Nicholas Derado, ZID
Steven Sexton, ZID

NORTHWEST MOUNTAIN REGION
Justin Simpson, D01
Hunter Panetti, HIO
Edward DeLisle, P80
Jeremy Prus, P80
Joseph Laporte, ZLC
Christopher Watson, ZLC

SOUTHERN REGION 
Nicholas Klose, BNA
James Williams, CLT
Michael Driscoll, DAB
Sean Caldwell, ILM
Derek Hartman, ILM
Benjamin Olkowski, ILM
Cameron Purser, ILM
Craig Monroe, SDF
Kristofer Violette, SDF

SOUTHWEST REGION 
Levi Howard, ACT
Joshua Kwapy, ACT
William Buvens, HUM
Steven Hover, HUM
Shane Ooten, SHV
Christopher Alexander, ZFW
Ryan Baird, ZFW

WESTERN PACIFIC REGION 
Scott Bowman, CRQ
Michael Holbert, CRQ
Michael Mallette, CRQ
John Macchiaroli, LAX
Kelsey McKendrick, LGB
Clinton Meche, LGB
Kyle Vercautren, LGB
Nicholas DiBenedetto, SNA
Nicholas Roth, SNA
William Smith, SNA

Photo Album

View our photo album from the awards banquet and CFS 2019.

Video: The Complete Awards Banquet

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