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President’s Award Winners

Winners of the President’s Award, presented annually at the end of the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards Banquet:

2019: 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.

2018 (tie): Phil Enis, Thomas Herd, and Hugh Hunton, Fort Worth Center (ZFW)

It was an emotional moment on Jan. 10, 2018 when pilot and Paris, Texas, neurologist Dr. Peter Edenhoffer met and thanked the air traffic control team at Fort Worth Center (ZFW) that came to his aid on Super Bowl Sunday 2017 when his Cessna Cardinal experienced complete electrical failure. Hearing Edenhoffer describe how he texted his son to tell him goodbye -thinking he was not going to survive the experience – hit the controllers hard.

But Edenhoffer did survive, thanks to the teamwork and quick, outside-the-box thinking demonstrated by the team of professionals at ZFW with more than 150 years of combined experience: NATCA members Hugh Hunton, Thomas Herd, and Phil Enis, with support from Charlie Porter, Mike Clifton, Mike Turner, and Bryan Beck.

The three NSW Archie League winners and others on duty that Sunday evening had just one hour left on their shifts. Edenhoffer’s flight began uneventfully. He was cleared to land in Paris, which was reporting ¾-mile visibility with 200-foot cloud ceilings. But then Porter and Enis noticed the aircraft’s beacon code reappear on their radar scope. That would not be unusual if a plane missed its approach and was going around for a second attempt, but the altitude indicator showed the aircraft was climbing well above the missed approach altitude of 3,000 feet to as high as 6,500.

Enis attempted to reestablish communications with Edenhoffer without success. He then noticed the beacon code briefly change to 7700, indicating an emergency. Over the next hour, Porter and Enis used every technique they knew to attempt to reach Edenhoffer. They asked other aircraft on frequency to attempt to reach him and continually advised him of his aircraft’s position to emergency airports and more favorable weather conditions for visual flight, even with no response.

The team brainstormed new ways they could reach Edenhoffer, including a Google search of the aircraft tail number. That led to a Google search of the Edenhoffer’s name based off his registrations, which in turn led to finding out he was a neurosurgeon. Then they searched locations where he could possibly practice neurosurgery near the home base of the aircraft, which led to a call to a hospital that knew Edenhoffer. They finally were able to locate his cell phone number. Calls to the cell number for 45 minutes were not answered but then they tried texting Edenhoffer – and it worked.

Texts revealed Edenhoffer not only had suffered a complete electrical failure, but he was flying on minimal fuel and needed to land quickly. “It was pretty tense,” Edenhoffer said. “My worst flying hours that I’ve had.” The team of controllers texted Edenhoffer the VFR areas in his vicinity. He texted ZFW to request they turn the runway lights on at Majors Airport in Greenville, Texas. The controllers tracked him and waited anxiously before receiving a triumphant final text from Edenhoffer that he had landed safely.

To mark the occasion of the reunion, Edenhoffer presented the team with a thank you letter.

He wrote, “How can simple words of thanks ever express the depths of saving a life? There are, however, only words of appreciation, which can be offered. Had your team not been willing to think outside the box, to use personal ingenuity even against the conventional rules in place, I might not be sitting here to write today. So often rules are so ingrained in individuals that they impede even the goals they are designed to reach. Thankfully, such was not the case that night.”

More on this event:

Emotional Reunion as Pilot Meets ZFW Team That Helped Save His Life

A Super Bowl Save

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

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

2018 (tie): Joshua Hall, Patrick Allen Johnson, Jeremiah Lee, Darren P. Tumelson, William T. Vaughn III, and Andrew John White, Memphis Center (ZME)

On the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, a Piper PA-31T Cheyenne departed Cleveland, Miss., located between Memphis, Tenn., and Jackson, Miss. The aircraft was en route to Destin, Fla., and the pilot, Charles Schindler, requested VFR flight following. Shortly after reporting on frequency, he stated that there was an issue with the aircraft and he was attempting to troubleshoot.

Within a few minutes, the problems got worse and Schindler declared an emergency. He requested to land at Greenwood, Miss., less than 10 miles away.

The controllers working on Memphis Center (ZME) sector 65, Andrew White and Tommy Vaughn, spent the next two hours assisting Schindler as he experienced locked flight controls, autopilot issues, loss of pitch control, and hydraulic failure. A team of other controllers, including Josh Hall, Patrick Johnson, Jeremy Lee, and Darren Tumelson, and supervisors went to work to assist Schindler with the many issues he was dealing with.

A key moment came when the team contacted Vincent Zarrella, Director of Global Customer Support with Piper Aircraft, Inc. Johnson, who has multi-engine IFR experience, was on the phone with Zarrella and relaying information directly to and from Schindler. Johnson told Zarrella that Schindler could not lower the landing gear and that the aircraft was suddenly experiencing changes in altitude with no command inputs. Schindler could not move the flight controls and he thought the autopilot was engaged. Zarrella brought Piper Chief Pilot Bart Jones into his office and they continued to provide instructions for Schindler on how to disengage the autopilot, including pulling all related circuit breakers and momentarily turning off both generators and the battery. But this didn’t help Schindler’s ability to move the flight controls.

Zarrella and Jones advised Schindler to override the autopilot by forcing the flight controls. Reducing power caused the aircraft to descend, indicating that if autopilot engagement was the problem, at least the altitude hold mode was not engaged and Schindler could control his altitude with power.

At one point, the controllers told Schindler to start a northward turn to avoid a line of thunderstorms that he was approaching while involved in the difficult task of simply maintaining straight and level flight. The aircraft was approximately 80 miles south of Greenwood and the controllers continued to provide navigational guidance, reassurance, and information.

Finally, after more expert guidance on final approach from Zarrella, Jones, and Johnson, Schindler landed safely at Greenwood. It was almost two hours and 300 miles from where he took off. His unintended destination was only 37 miles away from his departure.

This was the second time in 18 months that Schindler experienced an in-flight emergency in the same aircraft in Memphis Center’s airspace and, incredibly, the second time Tumelson was part of the resulting flight assist.

Schindler’s wife, Ashley, who had waited helplessly on the ground during the event, wrote a thank you note to the facility which read, in part, “Probably the most calming for me was knowing that Memphis Center had him! Each and every one of you played a specific role to support my husband and his safe landing and for that, he, our five children, and I owe you a debt of gratitude that cannot possibly be repaid properly.”

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

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

2017: Eric J. Knight and Ross Leshinsky, Boston Tower (BOS)
(Left to right) President Paul Rinaldi, Ross Leshinsky, pilot – Capt. David Dishman, Eric J. Knight, and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert.

On the evening of Oct. 20, 2016, Boston (BOS) Logan Airport was set in an uncommon configuration due to weather and low ceilings: Controllers were running ILS (instrument landing system) approaches to Runway 4R, while ILS approaches to 15R were circling to land on 4L.

The tower already was short-staffed, when they got a call from a local hospital that the front line manager’s wife had been in an accident and he needed to leave. (She was not seriously injured.)

A Piedmont Airlines De Havilland Dash 8-300 aircraft was making the circle approach to 4L when the CIC (controller in charge), Eric J. Knight, and LCW (local control west) controller Ross Leshinsky noticed that the aircraft was on an abnormal profile. The aircraft was lower than usual with this approach. Leshinsky noticed the aircraft did not have its landing lights on and asked the pilot to check his gear.

Everyone in the tower kept an especially careful eye on the aircraft as it was on its short base over the channel. The aircraft came in on a short dogleg. When the plane rolled out with less than an eighth of a mile to go, it was actually lined up for Taxiway B instead of 4L. What happened next occurred in a matter of seconds.

Leshinsky: 4872, go around. Go around. Go around now! Go around.

PDT4872: I’m goin’ around 4872.

Leshinsky: 4872 climb and maintain three thousand.

It was Knight who noticed immediately that the aircraft was lined up for the taxiway. After Leshinsky issued the go-around instruction, the aircraft began to pull up and flew over a JetBlue aircraft that was on the taxiway.

The controllers’ teamwork and attention to detail working a busy traffic area prevented a potentially devastating outcome.

New England Region Vice President Mike Robicheau:

“Logan Tower has many unique challenges due to its compact runway space. Being able to identify an aircraft landing at night with no lights turned on is hard enough already, let alone having the ability to immediately identify when the aircraft begins to go off course from the runway to the taxiway. Leshinsky and Knight’s experience and lightning-fast instincts saved lives that day. I am extremely proud of both of my New England Region brothers.”

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

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

2016: Donald Blatnik III and Kenneth Scheele, Central Florida TRACON
(From left to right) Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert, Donald Blatnik, pilot Matthew Hutton, Kenneth Scheele, and President Paul Rinaldi.

It was a busy push on April 18, 2015, when Donald Blatnik was training Kenneth Scheele on East Departure at Central Florida TRACON (F11). During this training session the pilot of a Cessna 400 suddenly reported low engine pressure and requested to land at the nearest airport.

N400BZ: Daytona, 0BZ, I got an issue with my engine right now, I’m not declaring an emergency or anything like that but I need to get direct to Kilo Tango India X-ray immediately for 0BZ.

Blatnik immediately took over the position and frequency in order to assist the struggling aircraft. The pilot reported that his engine and oil pressure were rapidly worsening and that he needed to get as low as possible. Blatnik continued to work the numerous other aircraft in his saturated airspace and began to direct them out of the aircraft’s way. Blatnik was updating the pilot with the location of nearby aircraft and the distance to the nearest airport, Space Coast Regional Airport (TIX), when the pilot declared an emergency.

Blatnik: 0BZ traffic’s now two o’clock and two miles westbound four-thousand 500 a Cirrus, let me know if you pick him up.

N400BZ: 0BZ is losing his engine – I need, I need the runway, 0BZ, declaring emergency.

Blatnik: 0BZ roger. Cleared visual approach, I’m just letting you know there’s traffic there. Cleared visual approach runway 2-7.

Blatnik continued to relay important information to the struggling pilot. Scheele coordinated a descent path with the controller in charge of the lower airspace, directing all aircraft away from the Cessna. Scheele also coordinated with the tower at TIX to ensure there would be no other traffic in the aircraft’s path.

In emergency situations, it is nearly impossible to predict how quickly an aircraft will descend. Blatnik and Scheele knew that quickly moving all aircraft out of the way was crucial to the safety of the pilot and everyone in the airspace. The pilot was beginning to sound frantic. Then he stopped responding for a few seconds.

Blatnik: N0BZ cleared to land any runway.

Blatnik: N0BZ cleared to land any runway, Space Coast Airport.

N400BZ: 0BZ.

As the aircraft rapidly descended, the pilot alerted Blatnik that he had lost an engine. Blatnik was able to give immediate clearance to the pilot in distress through his ability to quickly and effectively move nearby aircraft around without error or incident. Blatnik cleared the Cessna for visual approach to TIX and the aircraft landed safely, but then caught fire on the runway shortly after the pilot safely exited the aircraft.

Southern RVP Jim Marinitti:

Air traffic controllers work in an environment where we are expected to be right 100 percent of the time. There are no do-overs in a situation like this. Donald and Kenneth stepped up on the spot, during a busy session, without missing a beat. Without their fast actions, there is a possibility the pilot and his passengers would not have made it to the ground and out of the aircraft in time. Their actions represent the professionalism, teamwork, and bond that holds the National Airspace System together.

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

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

2015: Hugh McFarland, Houston TRACON
(From left to right): Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert, Hugh McFarland, Southwest Regional Vice President Tim Smith, and President Paul Rinaldi.

On November 16, 2014, longtime Houston TRACON NATCA member Hugh McFarland received a call from a distressed pilot who had become stuck on top of solid Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) weather. The pilot was only Visual Flight Rules (VFR) certified, and had encountered the weather conditions while en route from Kerrville, Texas, to David Wayne Hooks Airport, just north of Houston. After flying towards Houston for almost two hours, the pilot knew he needed more help.

After McFarland received the call from the pilot, he immediately began to make a plan to get the pilot safely on the ground. The weather the pilot was stuck on top of was almost 8,000 feet thick, and the conditions extended hundreds of miles around the Houston area. There was almost no chance the pilot could have flown his Cessna 172 to an airport with reported VFR conditions with the remaining fuel he had on board.

The decision was made to attempt a descent through the weather and have the pilot land at Houston Executive Airport (TME).

As a Beechcraft Baron aircraft owner and certified multi-engine instrument rated pilot himself, McFarland understood how critical it was that the pilot be able to land at TME. For 20 minutes, McFarland acted as the pilot’s navigation equipment and eyes through the weather. He prepared the pilot for the descent into TME, helped the pilot load up his GPS with the airport’s information, constantly reminded the pilot of his airspeed, bank angle in the turn, to stay calm, to breathe, to trim the aircraft, and to ensure the carburetor heat was on to prevent icing, among other things.

McFarland: N59G, you’re doing great, just keep the wings nice and level and airspeed about 85-90 knots, enrichen the mixture just a little bit more. Not all the way, but just a little bit.

McFarland: N59G, if you’re having to apply carburetor heat, go ahead and pull the carburetor heat knob out.

N4859G: Carburetor heat has been out, thank you.

McFarland: Roger.

McFarland: N59G, doing great, about another 500 feet to go, just continue southbound, heading 1-8-0, wings nice and level at 1-8-0, and just maintain 2,000 when you get there. About another 500 feet to go.

McFarland: N59G, when you’re ready, just make a standard-rate turn to the left, it’ll be just about 10 to 15 degrees of bank to the left, into a 0-9-0 heading, just due eastbound, just nice gradual turn, and use the turn coordinator and your attitude indicator to make just an easy turn to the left, about 15 degrees of bank.

McFarland also used landmarks to help assist the pilot in finding the airport. At 700 feet mean sea level, the pilot finally saw the ground. As the pilot descended lower, McFarland lost radar contact with the aircraft, but continued to provide the position of TME relative to the last known position of the aircraft until he heard the pilot had safely landed his aircraft.

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

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

Archie2015-Southwest from NATCA National Office on Vimeo.

2014: Nunzio DiMillo, Boston Tower
(From left to right) Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert, pilot T.R. Wood, Nunzio DiMillo, and President Paul Rinaldi.

On September 27, 2013, around 7 p.m., JetBlue Captain T.R. Wood was piloting an Embraer 190 down Taxiway B at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). At the same time, Nunzio DiMillo, a 23-year veteran controller, was watching out of the tower cab window as a Cirrus SR22 turned to line up for a landing on Runway 4L.

Oftentimes, pilots of smaller aircraft, like the Cirrus, will fly a dog-leg approach to Runway 4L. By lining up with the runway when they are over the numbers painted on the ground, they are usually able to avoid the turbulence and choppy air left behind by larger aircraft.

As the Cirrus pilot made the turn towards the airport, he apparently got confused. In the darkness, he struggled to find Runway 4L among the various lights on the airport, the lights of the city and the nearby harbor. Instead of lining up with the runway, the Cirrus pilot lined up with Taxiway B, and put his plane on a direct collision course with the JetBlue Embraer.

In the tower, DiMillo could tell something was wrong with the Cirrus’ approach. He quickly glanced up at the ASDE-X display and saw the Cirrus was lined up with Taxiway B. He immediately told the pilot to go around.

Nunzio: Six Bravo Juliet, go around. Six Bravo Juliet, go around, please. Go around.

N246BJ: Six Bravo Juliet is going around.

Nunzio: That was – you were lined up for a taxiway, Six Bravo Juliet.

About 30-feet off the ground, the Cirrus began to gain altitude, flying close enough over the Embraer that Captain Wood could hear the engine through all the noise proofing material that surrounds the cockpit. DiMillo, thinking the Cirrus pilot would probably be shaken up by the close call, kept him on the tower’s frequency as he executed the go-around. Meanwhile, the tower turned up the airport lights to help the pilot make a safe landing.

DiMillo himself had to remain calm as he continued to work the busy West Local position, a position that required him to talk to every landing and departing aircraft at Boston. In the hour that the event occurred, DiMillo spoke to 92 aircraft. His experience as a veteran controller helped him remain focused on the other aircraft under his watch.

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

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

A Video Tribute to the First 10 Years of President’s Award Winners

2013: Bill Sullivan, Tampa Tower/TRACON

2012: Ken Greenwood, Josh Haviland, and Ryan Herrick, Seattle TRACON

2011: Derek Bittman, Atlanta Center

2010: Jessica Anaya, Lisa Grimm, Nathan Henkels, Miami Center; Dan Favio, Brian Norton, Carey Meadows, Fort Myers Tower/TRACON

2009: John Charlton, Lake Charles Tower/TRACON

2008: Patrick Eberhart, Detroit TRACON

2007: Chris Thigpen, Kansas City Center

2006: Jesse Fisher, Miami Tower

2005: Ken Hopf, Boston TRACON