Air Safety Institute recognizes controllers for service

March 8, 2013

Five air traffic controllers have been awarded “Flight Assist Commendations” by the Air Safety Institute of the AOPA Foundation for service they rendered to pilots who were facing troubles while aloft during 2012.

Each of the controllers was recognized for guiding pilots to safety who were struggling with airborne situations that included an on-board fire, a loss of instruments, hypoxia, and the danger of high terrain.

The awards were presented March 6, during the annual conference of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in Las Vegas.

“These controllers exemplify the high standards that we’ve come to rely upon,’’ said Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Foundation. “The U.S. has the busiest and safest airspace in the world, but periodically pilots do face tremendous life-threatening challenges. In many cases it’s been these controllers who made the difference between a non-event and a tragedy.”

Controllers Tony Hanel and Ashley Curtsinger were commended for assisting a Beechcraft Baron with an on-board fire. The airplane eventually ditched in the Gulf of Mexico and the controllers coordinated the rescue of the pilot and passenger.

In a March 2012 incident, controller Rosalina Serai alerted a pilot “who was under enormous distress while operating under instrument conditions, deviating off course and heading towards rising terrain.” Serai directed the aircraft to another airport, where it landed safely.

In a May 2012 instance, John Herlien directed a pilot who was experiencing hypoxia to descend. The pilot reported feeling better at a lower altitude and the flight ended safely.

And in October, controller Steve Clark assisted a pilot flying in instrument conditions whose Cessna 182 aircraft experienced an avionics failure. “Controller Clark handled the emergency in an exemplary manner by providing no-gyro vectors to several airports until suitable landing conditions were found,” the award states. The pilot landed safely.

The AOPA Foundation’s Air Safety Institute is dedicated exclusively to providing continuing pilot education and safety programs for general aviation. It is funded by donations from individual pilots and organizations, which support the cause of improved general aviation safety.