Safety: Honoring life-saving flight assists AOPA Air Safety Institute recognizes air traffic controllers

In 1981 at his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan said, “Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look.” March 22, in a large banquet hall packed with more than 1,500 people, one didn’t have to look very far. They weren’t wearing capes and didn’t have superhuman powers (unless some were invisible). They were ordinary garden-variety heroes—air traffic controllers, who through extraordinary feats of bravery saved the lives of pilots who were in danger, distressed, and disoriented.

It’s a good reminder for flying club members and all pilots that there is a resource readily available and willing to help keep pilots safe on any flight we take – the air traffic control system. Even if you’re not filing a flight plan, getting VFR flight following is a useful way to get traffic alerts, weather updates, and in case of an emergency you’re already on a frequency with someone who can assist, like the controllers that were recognize recently.

That evening in Las Vegas during the Communicating for Safety conference, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) presented 19 controllers with the prestigious Archie League Medal of Safety Award. The AOPA Air Safety Institute (ASI) also honored eight other controllers with its Flight Assist Commendation. Since only one Archie League recipient is allowed per ATC region, ASI created the Commendations in 2009 to recognize air traffic controllers whose life-saving efforts guided general aviation pilots to a safe landing.

ASI’s director of education Paul Deres presented the awards for demonstrated initiative, teamwork, professionalism, and a calm demeanor to:

John Karnbach, New York Tracon. John helped a distressed Piper Lance pilot land safely after his aircraft experienced complete electrical failure at night, leaving him with only his cell phone as a means of communicating with ATC. 

Eric Miner, Chicago Midway Tower. While taking off from Chicago Midway, a Challenger jet lost a tire—unbeknownst to the flight crew. Eric’s resourcefulness and exceptional coordination efforts with other ATC facilities alerted the crew to the situation, which resulted in a safe landing without incident.

Matt Reavis and John Perczak, Detroit Metro TRACON. Matt and John assisted a Piper Aerostar pilot who experienced GPS and compass failures while flying in instrument conditions. Their teamwork and expertise helped to re-orient the pilot to a safe on-airport landing.

Darren Tumelson, Memphis Center. After the pilot of Piper Cheyenne declared an emergency due to the loss of one engine, Darren’s exceptional service and experience as a multi-engine pilot helped him guide the distressed pilot to a safe landing.

William Mitchell and Eddie Yurus, Southern California TRACON. William and Eddie demonstrated exceptional teamwork while re-orienting a Cirrus pilot who had difficulty navigating and maintaining altitude.

Greg Schildmeier, Los Angeles Center. Greg’s initiative by declaring an emergency for a Bonanza pilot who picked up ice at night while flying in IMC helped him guide the pilot safely to an alternate airport.

View all award winners at NATCA’s web site.

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