Parker Corts, Anchorage Center
Anchorage Center NATCA member Parker Corts, a six-year air traffic control veteran, and a private, single engine instrument-rated pilot, was working the southeast Alaska sector on August 8, 2014, when he noticed a Comanche pilot was having trouble navigating. Corts cleared the pilot, who was inbound to Juneau, to the LYNNS intersection to begin the LDA X 8 approach into the airport.
For unknown reasons, the pilot was unable to find the intersection, so Corts vectored the aircraft for the localizer. He patiently gave multiple vectors and altitudes to the Comanche pilot, trying to keep the aircraft on course.
After issuing the aircraft a heading of 100, Corts noticed the pilot was not flying the heading, even though he had read back the clearance correctly. Instead, the pilot was flying a 010 heading and heading directly for higher terrain. At that point, Corts’ expertise and instincts as an air traffic controller and pilot kicked in. He knew something was not okay in the aircraft.
Corts: N67P, fly heading 1-0-0, vector to intercept the localizer, proceed inbound, maintain 7,000, report established on the localizer.
N6267P: 67P to turn 1-0-0 to intercept the localizer and maintain seven until doing so.
Corts: N67P, say heading.
N6267P: 67P is heading 0-1-0.
At no time did the pilot offer that he was having trouble, but he clearly was unable to maintain headings or altitudes, find fixes, or tune in to VORs. Finally, the pilot mentioned that his equipment did not appear to be working correctly. Corts, knowing full well the implications of malfunctioning equipment near terrain, immediately enlisted the assistance of another aircraft in the area. He asked the pilot to relay several vital transmissions to the aircraft in distress. Corts, through the assisting pilot, was able to help the Comanche pilot in navigating to an area where he could maintain ground contact.
Corts: N67P, roger, do you have any reference at all or are you straight in the clouds?
N6267P: 67P still in the clouds.
Corts: Okay, N67P, roger, I’m going to try and take you southbound through a cloud break. The ceiling’s been reported at 5,600 feet, turn 30 degrees left, I’ll give you a “stop turn” when you need to stop turning. Turn at a standard rate.
N6267P: 67P turning left and maintaining 8,000.
Corts: N67P, stop turn.
N6267P: 67P stop turn.
N6267P: 67P has excellent ground reference right at this moment.
When Corts could maintain communications with the Comanche, he gave the pilot locations of nearby airports and their weather conditions. He assisted the pilot in finding another airport with better conditions: Gustavus. Because of Corts and his quick thinking, the Comanche pilot made a visual approach into Gustavus and landed safely.