Sunday, March 01, 2015

Cessna Citation Mustang, N7876C, JetBlue

Sarina Gumbert, an air traffic controller, will be honored this week in Las Vegas for helping a small plane avoid crashing into a JetBlue plane in midair back in October 2014.

ORLANDO --   An air traffic controller in Central Florida is being awarded for saving countless lives after she helped divert a small plane that was on a collision course with a JetBlue flight.

The near-crash happened just before noon on Oct. 24, 2014, when something unusual caught Sarina Gumbert's eye.

"Instinct takes over," said Gumbert, who is an air traffic controller at the Central Florida Terminal Approach Control, known as Central Florida TRACON. "Your training takes over, and you just start separating airplanes as best you can."

Gumbert said she quickly realized a Cessna Citation Mustang, which had just taken off from Orlando International Airport, was flying straight toward a JetBlue flight, and so she quickly told the small plane to make an immediate left turn.

Now she's being credited with saving dozens of lives.

"It's a little bit surreal when you look back and think about how close it got and what could have happened if I hadn't had caught it," she said. "I love my job. I love controlling airplanes."

Gumbert will receive the Archie League Medal of Safety Award from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at its annual conference, which is being held Wednesday, March 4, in Las Vegas. The event honors top air traffic controllers from around the United States who ensured safety and saved lives during an emergency situation in 2014.

Gumbert, however, said she doesn't consider herself a hero.

"It's hard to say that it was heroic or feel that way because it's my job," she said. "That's what we're supposed to do. I did exactly what I was supposed to do that day, and it worked out really well."

Regardless, she's excited about being recognized as one of the top air traffic controllers in the country.

"There is 14,000 air traffic controllers in this country, and when one of us does something wrong, the whole country knows about it pretty quickly," Gumbert said. "But every single day, somebody in our career field does something extraordinary, and ... most of the time, the entire nation doesn't ever hear about it."

Gumbert describes herself as "calm and cool" — two traits almost required for air traffic controllers.

"Air traffic is one of those jobs where if you sound confident in what you're doing, the pilot is going to trust you," Gumbert said. "This award that I'm getting is one of those opportunities to actually bring positive press to what we do every day."

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