This is the last in a series of three stories recapping the events that have won a 2016 Archie League Medal of Safety Award.
Donald Blatnik III, Central Florida TRACON
Kenneth Scheele, Central Florida TRACON
On April 18, 2015, Donald Blatnik was training Kenneth Scheele during a busy session on East Departure at Central Florida TRACON (F11) when the pilot of aircraft N400BZ reported low engine pressure and requested to land at the nearest airport. Blatnik immediately took over the position and frequency in order to assist the aircraft. The pilot reported that his engine and oil pressure were rapidly worsening while Blatnik continued to work the other aircraft in his saturated airspace. Blatnik was updating N400BZ 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 continued to relay important information to the struggling pilot. Scheele coordinated a descent path with the controller in charge of the lower airspace, directing aircraft away from N400BZ. Scheele also coordinated with the tower at TIX to ensure there would be no traffic in the aircraft’s path. At this point, the pilot was beginning to sound extremely stressed, but Blatnik’s calm and steady communications to the pilot ensured his safe descent. Blatnik cleared N400BZ for visual approach to TIX and the aircraft landed safely, but caught fire on the runway shortly after the pilot safely exited the aircraft. Blatnik and Scheele’s quick actions and successful teamwork saved the pilot’s life that day.
Wade H. Martin IV, Dallas/Love Field ATCT
Nick Valadez, Dallas/Love Field ATCT
On Oct. 11, 2015, weather was clear at Dallas/Love Field (DAL) with normal departure traffic. Aircraft N4432B had a clear takeoff from Runway 13, but shortly after liftoff, the aircraft suffered a complete electrical failure. The pilot failed to respond to calls to adjust departure course and the transponder reply was never seen. Only a primary target was in view on Wade H. Martin IV's radar. The pilot called 911 from his personal cell phone to attempt to get in communication with the tower, but the call was dropped. The quick-thinking dispatcher called the tower and informed the controllers on duty that a pilot in an emergency situation had attempted to call them.
The pilot called 911 again and was patched through to the tower where Martin IV was working. Martin IV spoke to the pilot and arranged for a low approach with runway lights turned all the way up so the pilot could make better visual contact with the airport. Controller Nick Valadez, who was also working in the Tower at the time, took over all frequencies and all aircraft on the ground so Martin could focus on assisting the pilot.
The Dallas Stars hockey team was waiting to park at the airport in a Boeing 757, and a King Air aircraft was waiting to depart. An airport operations vehicle was also on the tarmac. Valadez asked the two aircraft and the airport operations vehicle to look up at N4432B to check its landing gear status. All three reported that the landing gear was down, which Martin relayed to the pilot. The Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) vehicles went from Alert I (standby) to Alert II (difficult or crash landing expected) near the runway. The pilot flew a left traffic pattern and indicated he would conduct a “deadstick landing” – when an aircraft loses all of its propulsive power and is forced to land. The gear remained down on landing and the pilot came to a stop within the first 1,700 feet of the 7,752-foot runway. The driver of the airport operations vehicle reported to Martin IV and Valadez that the aircraft had landed and come to a complete stop.
Thanks to Martin IV and Valadez taking immediate action to assist the pilot by using all tools available to them, a potentially dangerous situation was averted and the pilot was able to land safely.
Western Pacific Region
Ryan Nines, Northern California TRACON
William L. Hoppe Jr., Northern California TRACON
Luis Ramirez, Northern California TRACON
Instrument flight rules (IFR) aircraft N5188T departed Runway 28 from Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) and headed towards Lincoln Regional Airport (LHM) on Nov. 18, 2015. When the aircraft hit 4,500 feet, the pilot stated that he was experiencing a rough ride and requested to return to MRY. Suddenly, the aircraft’s altitude dropped to 1,800 feet in a dangerous spiraling turn. Ryan Nines, William L. Hoppe Jr., and Luis Ramirez were all controllers on duty at the time. Nines was following the aircraft by using a tagging tool that tracks aircraft direction, commonly referred to as a "bat", after it appeared to be tracking in various directions.
The pilot relayed he was having difficulty maintaining his heading and could not get back up to a good altitude. Nines stayed very calm and asked the pilot if he was OK. The pilot responded, “No.”
Nines advised the pilot to roll his wings and make sure they were level. During these transmissions, other aircraft on the same frequency became aware that an aircraft was in danger. An unknown pilot began to advise N5188T to activate autopilot if one was on board because it would assist him in keeping the wings level. The pilot of N5188T was able to successfully turn on his autopilot.
Nines, Hoppe Jr., and Ramirez worked well together to assist the nervous pilot. Nines advised him that turning during the climb was not necessary and was hindering his ability to maintain his flight heading. Hoppe Jr. and Ramirez began scouting out the weather at nearby airports and suggested Nines instruct the pilot to climb to visual flight rules conditions. Nines informed the pilot that nearby Castle Airport (MER) was reporting visual meteorological conditions. During this time, the aircraft experienced two more upsets and loss of altitude. Each time, Nines quickly determined that it involved an unintentional turn and instructed the pilot to cease rolling the aircraft.
The aircraft arrived at MER and landed safely. Thanks to the teamwork displayed by Nines, Hoppe Jr., and Ramirez, the pilot was able to return to the ground safely and without incident.