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Controllers honored for role in keeping skies safe

Photo credit: Tim Branscum, NATCA. AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg. Photo credit: Tim Branscum, NATCA.

AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg on March 22 helped pay tribute to air traffic controllers and the life-saving role they can play for general aviation pilots in distress. At the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s (NATCA) annual Communicating For Safety conference, Landsberg presented 10 Flight Assist commendations to controllers from around the country.

“As the recipients of these commendations and NATCA’s own Archie League Awards demonstrate, controllers can be the difference between life and death,” said Landsberg. “When things go wrong or a pilot is in over his head, that calm voice at the other end of the radio can help find a way out of the situation.”

This year’s recipients of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation Flight Assist Commendations are:

Chad Bentz (Eastern Region), for providing outstanding assistance on June 14, 2009, to a pilot in a single-engine aircraft who got caught in heavy rain and fog, at night, with numerous thunderstorms in the area. Bentz searched for better weather at several airports and finding none suitable, guided the pilot to a safe landing at Philadelphia International.

John Overman (Great Lakes Region) for providing outstanding assistance on April 25, 2009, to a Lifeguard Helicopter that was transporting an accident victim to a hospital. Overman’s detailed information about severe thunderstorms and coordination with EMS personnel on the ground enabled the helicopter crew to land in a nearby parking lot and transfer the patient successfully.

Dale Taylor (Great Lakes Region) for providing outstanding assistance on Feb. 20, 2009, to the pilot of a single-engine aircraft who suffered an engine failure on a night flight in poor visibility. Taylor provided vectors and other critical information that allowed the pilot to make a safe landing with no injury.

Alan Gorski (Northwest Mountain Region) for providing outstanding assistance on Feb. 8, 2009, to an Angel Flight pilot flying a Cessna 172 with two children and their mother to a medical appointment. Despite icing conditions and the pilot’s difficulty in flying an instrument approach, Gorski guided the aircraft successfully through the clouds to a safe landing.

Robert Hill Sr. (Southern Region) for providing outstanding assistance on Nov. 11, 2009, to a pilot on a flight in instrument conditions who experienced an instrument malfunction in low visibility, heavy rain, and high wind conditions. Hill provided no-gyro vectors to an alternate airport and talked the pilot down to a safe landing.

Don Nikolich and David Pridgen (Southern Region) for providing outstanding assistance on Nov. 29, 2009, to a noninstrument-rated pilot who entered night instrument meteorological conditions. Nikolich and Pridgen, through exceptional coordination and team work, were able to guide the pilot to a safe landing despite widespread areas of low ceiling and multiple attempts to land at several airports.

Brandi Norberg and Larry Ghersi (Southern Region) for providing outstanding assistance on Oct. 10, 2009, to a single-engine aircraft pilot who experienced complete engine failure over the Gulf of Mexico. Norberg and Ghersi vectored another aircraft to the location of the descending aircraft and notified the Coast Guard. Due to their excellent teamwork and quick thinking, all three aircraft occupants were rescued the next morning due to the precise location given by the assisting aircraft.

Larry Gardiner (Southwest Region) for providing outstanding assistance on Aug. 12, 2009, to an aircraft that was not under his control. Controller Gardiner preemptively transmitted a traffic warning, in the blind, which resulted in one of the aircraft taking evasive action and avoiding an almost certain midair collision.

“These stories demonstrate that even when the pilot is the only person physically in the aircraft, he or she is not alone,” concluded Landsberg. “Air traffic controllers are incredible resources. All a pilot has to do is ask.”

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