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Northwest Mountain Region Archie League Medal of Safety Award Winner

Aaron Grijalva

On Dec. 11, 2016, a student pilot of a Cessna 172S checked in on Denver TRACON (D01) frequency. Controller Aaron Grijalva began working the aircraft in the Satellite Radar 4 area. The pilot was difficult to understand and requested flight following in the Centennial Airport (APA) area and navigational aid to Pueblo Memorial Airport (PUB). The student pilot was having a difficult time navigating through the clouds and repeatedly asked to be vectored around them.

N5327J: Um, is there any way you [unreadable], I can vector around the clouds?

Grijalva: And 27J, if you’re asking about…if…are you asking us if we can vector you around the clouds? Is that what you’re asking?

N5327J: Yeah.

Grijalva: 27J, unfortunately I’m…I’m not able to see the clouds.

Grijalva remained calm and explained the limitations of radar to the student pilot, offering several options, including returning to APA. He inquired about the aircraft’s flight conditions and the student pilot’s intentions, as the aircraft seemed to be off course and not making progress towards the destination. The pilot seemed a little disorientated and unclear on what he should do. Grijalva also is a pilot and provided guidance and weather conditions, as well as basic flight maneuvers to the student pilot.

His expertise helped the pilot stabilize the aircraft and navigate back towards APA, where the weather was reported to be better. The student pilot again asked to continue on to PUB, but Grijalva used his judgment and ability to reason to convince the student pilot to return the aircraft to the ground and make sure they were ready to conduct the flight.

N5327J: Um, is there a place [unreadable] Pueblo?

Grijalva: Skyhawk 27J, ah, are you sure you want to do that? It seems like we had a lot of trouble getting you around those clouds, are you…are you sure you want to just double check? Maybe wait another try? Centennial is there 11 o’clock and six miles if you want to just wait it out a bit.

N5327J: Okay.

The aircraft is based at the flight school at APA. After the incident, Grijalva was able to contact the pilot’s flight instructor. The certified flight instructor said the pilot would be retrained on navigation and radio procedures before advancing in their flight-training program.

Northwest Mountain Region Vice President Doug Pincock:

“A disoriented pilot presents a challenging situation for any controller, especially when the pilot is inexperienced. Aaron was able to rely on his years as a controller and pilot to help N5327J return safely to Centennial Airport. I am extremely proud to have such a skilled and dedicated professional representing the Northwest Mountain Region.”

Watch and listen here to a recording of the highlights of this flight assist.

Watch here: Video of the award presentation.