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GreatLakesAdam Helm, Justin Krenke, and Mike Ostrander, Green Bay Tower/TRACON


On February 13, 2014, Green Bay Tower/TRACON (GRB) NATCA member and former airline pilot Justin Krenke was working a satellite position in the TRACON when a Beechcraft Baron was inbound to Menominee, Wisc. (MNM) from Rochester, Minn. Because of known icing in the area, Krenke told the pilot to descent to 3,000 feet at his discretion. Upon initial descent, the aircraft did indeed encounter icing.

Due to the minimum vectoring altitude in the area, Krenke was not able to descend the pilot any further, however, he did offer a straight in approach to MNM. The pilot declined and asked to continue for the initial approach for which he was set up.

At this time, NATCA member and single engine instrument rated pilot Adam Helm passed through the TRACON on a break and he heard the pilot was concerned about the icing. After the pilot could not safely descend any further, he asked to climb above the icing conditions and informed Krenke that his gyro had spun. The controllers knew they needed to work quickly.

Krenke climbed the aircraft to 4,000 feet, while NATCA member Mike Ostrander quickly called Minneapolis Center to let them know they were handling the aircraft as an emergency, and the pilot needed to climb past 4,000 feet. Krenke climbed the aircraft to 6,000 feet, then 8,000 feet, in an effort to climb above the icing conditions.

Helm pulled weather reports from satellite airports to try to find one that had higher ceilings. He even called Minneapolis Center and Milwaukee TRACON to ask if they had any airports in their area with visual flight rule conditions. There were none.

The pilot began to descend and head towards GRB. Mindful of the icing and pilot-reported equipment malfunction, the controllers started to prepare for a possible emergency ASR approach to GRB. As time progressed, it became evident that the pilot was having an increasingly difficult time maintaining headings and altitude due to the icing. About 20 miles from GRB, the pilot declared an emergency and descended below the minimum vectoring altitude in an attempt to get under the icing conditions.

The controllers jumped into action and relayed possible obstructions to the pilot. They also found an alternate airport where the pilot could land, Oconto Airport (OCQ). Helm called the Oconto police dispatcher and advised that there was an aircraft in distress that would be attempting an emergency landing at the uncontrolled satellite field, and that emergency services would be required.

Krenke vectored the aircraft over OCQ several times while Helm stayed on the phone with the dispatcher. The pilot stated that there were plows on the runway so he was not able to land. The controllers quickly told the dispatcher the plows needed to vacate the runway. On the next pass, they lost radar and communication with the aircraft, but the dispatcher relayed that the aircraft had crash landed.

Thanks to Krenke, Helm, and Ostrander, the pilot and his passengers survived the crash landing.


Listen to highlights of this event.