Western Pacific Region
Ryan Nines, William L. Hoppe Jr., and Luis Ramirez were all controllers on duty when a Cessna 182 departed runway 28 from Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) and headed towards Lincoln Regional Airport (LHM) on Nov. 18, 2015. Nines was on position when the aircraft hit 4,500 feet and 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. It was descending tail-first in a dangerous spiraling turn.
Nines: N5188T, NorCal approach, are you alright there?
N5188T: Uh, no I’m getting…
Nines: N5188T try to level your wings, just level your wings. I’m getting a low altitude alert, check your altitude immediately. The minimum vectoring altitude in that area is two thousand, three hundred.
Nines continued to advise the pilot to level his wings. During these transmissions, aircraft on the same frequency became aware that this pilot was in danger. An unknown pilot began to advise the Cessna pilot to activate the autopilot if it was on board because it would assist him in keeping the wings level. The Cessna pilot was able to successfully turn on his autopilot but because of the nature of his equipment failures, this actually made flying the aircraft harder. The autopilot froze his equipment, making it near impossible to turn off the malfunctioning systems or their alert sirens.
Nines: N5188T I still show you’re in a turn there, are you, are you in a turn? Just level your wings, I don’t want you turning there because last time that you did that you ended up going down pretty quickly.
N5188T: Okay I got turned around, I am level, but I’m now turned around, headed uh, 3…3-1-0. Should I turn around?
Nines: N5188T right now I just want you to fly any heading with level wings. I don’t want you to make any type of turns.
N5188T: Fly level wings, keep climbing.
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 (VMC). 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. Thanks to the teamwork displayed by Nines, Hoppe Jr., and Ramirez, the pilot was eventually able to return to the ground safely.
Western Pacific RVP Ham Ghaffari:
The incredible work of Ryan, William, and Luis exemplifies the teamwork integral to air traffic control. During emergency situations every second matters. All hands were immediately on deck to ensure that the pilot and his two passengers got to the ground safely. The focus required to assist a pilot through nearly an hour of rough and unpredictable flight cannot be overstated. I am very proud to represent these dedicated professionals who bring the highest standard of safety to air traffic control every day.
Late at night on Oct. 11, 2015, weather was clear at Dallas/Love Field (DAL) with normal departure traffic. The pilot of a Piper Lance 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. He dialed 911 from his personal cell phone in an attempt to communicate with the tower, but the call dropped. The quick-thinking 911 dispatcher called the tower and informed the controllers on duty that a pilot in an emergency situation had attempted to call them. When the pilot called 911 again, the dispatcher patched him through to the tower where Wade H. Martin IV and Nick Valadez were working.
911 Dispatch: This is Stephanie with 9-1-1. I have the pilot that was having the electrical issues and couldn’t land. I have him on the line.
Martin: Please connect him.
911 Dispatch: OK. Just a moment.
Martin: Hey, can you hear me?
Martin spoke to the pilot and arranged for a low approach fly-by with runway lights turned all the way up so the pilot could make better visual contact with the airport and to establish if the aircraft’s landing gear was down. Because the aircraft had suffered a complete electrical failure, the pilot had no indication if the landing gear was down or locked. Controller Nick Valadez took over all frequencies and all aircraft on the ground so Martin could focus on assisting the pilot.
The Dallas Stars hockey team happened to be 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 the Piper 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 without engine power.
N4432B: Yeah. I am going to come back around. I will land with the engine off just in case the gear is not locked.
Martin: Not a problem. I’m going to roll the fire equipment now.
Martin to Valadez: Roll ‘em.
N4432B: If the gear is locked, I’d like to get out and check it. If it’s good, I’ll taxi it back over to the FBO.
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 airport operations vehicle reported to Martin and Valadez that the aircraft had landed and was at a complete stop.
Southwest RVP Andrew LeBovidge:
The teamwork and calm resourcefulness demonstrated by Wade and Nick during this crisis truly exemplify the commitment to safety and service that is the hallmark of our profession. The fast and effective coordination between both Wade and Nick to establish how the plane should attempt to land ensured a safe outcome for the pilot. The manner in which Wade and Nick engaged to assist a pilot in distress is the epitome of the professionalism and dedication all controllers have to the system and the flying public.
Northwest Mountain Region
Joshua Pate had been a controller at S46 for about four years on Sept. 6, 2015, when he plugged into the departure east sector at S46. The east sector borders the 14,411-foot Mount Rainier and the Cascade Mountain Range.
The pilot of a Cessna departed Ranger Creek Airport and planned to follow the White River valley northwest towards lower terrain and eventually land at Boeing Field (BFI). The aircraft’s elevation at takeoff was 2,650 feet in the foothills just north of Mount Rainier. The cloud ceiling had been predicted at 5,000 feet that day but unfortunately, it was much lower. When the pilot turned the aircraft to follow the valley to the west, he encountered a wall of clouds and had no choice but to enter them.
N740QR: I’m lost in the clouds in the mountains and a VFR pilot.
Pate: Verify your full call sign please.
Pate: Cessna N740QR squawk 0-3-3-4.
N740QR: Alright, help me.
The pilot relayed that he was at 5,900 feet. Pate pulled up his emergency obstruction video map (EOVM) map and saw that the aircraft was less than five miles north of a 6,400 foot elevation profile and seven miles west of another rise in terrain.
The average life expectancy of a VFR pilot lost in the clouds is 178 seconds. When an inexperienced pilot encounters unplanned instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), a physiological reaction occurs and they begin to sweat and lose orientation. As an experienced controller, Pate knew that the most important thing he could do was help the pilot establish a straight and level flight.
Pate: N0QR stop turn. Just fly straight now.
Pate: N0QR stop your turn and fly straight.
Pate: N0QR I am not receiving any response. Just stop your turn and fly straight.
N740QR: 4QR straight flight.
When the pilot informed him that he was having navigation issues, Josh immediately began issuing no-gyro vectors. The pilot began circling because of his disorientation and inability to get a sense of his direction without his instruments. Pate was able to calmly and reassuringly direct the aircraft into VFR conditions by issuing no gyro vectors for about six minutes — twice the length of time a VFR pilot can typically sustain IFR conditions — preventing a fatal accident.
Northwest Mountain RVP Douglas Pincock:
Joshua did an incredible job directing N740QR during this tense and stressful situation. The pilot was able to regain his composure and focus his attention on flying the plane because he knew that a skilled and knowledgeable controller was guiding him safely through high terrain to VFR conditions. Joshua’s calm and steady direction saved the life of this pilot and his passenger. I am extremely proud to represent such a skilled and dedicated professional.
Southern Region Archie League Medal of Safety Award Winner
2016 President's Award Winner
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.
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.
New England Region
On April 20, 2015, the pilot of a Mooney M20K was experiencing a gear malfunction. Joseph White was on position at PVD and began assisting the pilot, who was having a hard time staying calm. White told him, “It’s OK, we’re going to work with you on this,” and took control. Adding to the difficult situation, the airport surveillance radar antenna (ASR-9) at PVD was out of service, which prevented radar contact with aircraft below 2,000 feet in the vicinity of the airport. At that time, coordination with another scope was established to help White track the aircraft by using long-range radar (LRR). This helped White identify the aircraft’s location at low altitudes.
White: N73S we have a radar mode that will give us radar to about two-thousand feet so what we’re going to try to do is keep radar that way and get you down to two-thousand and try to get the field in sight for you.
White: N73S when able say fuel remaining and souls on board.
N5773S: Just one soul on board, 73S.
There were low cloud ceilings and IFR conditions that day. The pilot reported that in addition to the aircraft’s gear malfunction, the trims, GPS, and autopilot were inoperative. White attempted to vector the aircraft towards the airport for nearly 40 minutes, then initiated no-gyro vectors for ILS Runway 5 at PVD. The pilot was unable to intercept the localizer, so White advised the pilot to descend to 1,200 feet — well below the minimum vectoring altitude in that area.
Because of this lower altitude, the pilot was able to break through the low cloud ceiling. He wanted to attempt a visual approach into the airport and reported that he had the airport in sight. Unfortunately, he had mistakenly identified Quonset (OQU) airport visually, not Providence.
White: N73S roger. Proceed visually for Providence Airport Runway 5.
N5773S: Visually to Runway 5, 73S.
White: N73S are you comfortable making the frequency change now?
N5773S: Maybe I’m heading to KOOU.
N5773S: 73S, I think I’m heading the wrong airport. This is KOOU. Can I do a 180?
At this point, White and the pilot had to decide at which airport the pilot should attempt to land. The pilot asked White if he could attempt to proceed to PVD, but White knew that with the pilot’s equipment failures adding up and options for handling them running out, the pilot should attempt to land at OQU. White’s quick actions and calm, reassuring tone ensured that the pilot was able to land the malfunctioning aircraft safely.
New England Regional Vice President Mike Robicheau:
The flexibility that Joseph displayed during this event was tremendous. Air traffic controllers must be quick-thinking, have fast reflexes, and consistently make the right decisions to assist the aircraft they are working. Joseph used all of his skills as an air traffic controller to ensure a safe and positive outcome for the pilot of N5773S. The issues the pilot had accumulated quickly, but Joseph’s immediate responses to the constantly changing situation is yet another example of the extremely high standards of professionalism of our controllers.