Avon air-traffic controller David Stempien accepting his medal at the 2017 NATCA safety conference last month in Las Vegas last month. He is credited with saving two lives by helping to guide a stricken aircraft to safety. (NATCA Photo)
William and Cecilia Reid of West Virginia, at the 2017 NATCA safety conference last month in Las Vegas. David Stempien, an Avon air-traffic controller, is credited with helping to save their lives in October by guiding their stricken aircraft to safety. (NATCA Photo)
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Since March 6, William and Cecilia Reid of Clarksburg, West Virginia celebrated their respective birthdays.
That may sound trivial, but those events are milestones for them because an air disaster in October nearly killed them, but for the intervention of a 30-year-old air traffic controller at the FAA's Cleveland Center in Oberlin, which covers parts of Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the western edge of Maryland.
David Stempien received their thanks and the Archie League Medal of Safety at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's annual safety conference, last month in Las Vegas. The award is named for the first air traffic controller, hired at what is Lambert St. Louis International Airport in 1929.
Stempien was among 10 air-traffic controllers to receive the League Medal -- one each from eight FAA regions, and two from the Great Lakes Region, including Stempien, a Michighan native with 10 years at the FAA, now living in Avon.
His calm and measured response also put the Reids on a course to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in June, Cecelia Reid said by telephone Friday.
In October, they were in a Beechcraft Debonair, a four-seat, single-engine low-wing aircraft flying from Clarksburg to Lake Placid, New York. Stempien hailed the reeds using the plane's N number -- N305Z -- which appears on its fuselage and wing.
That day, Stempien was controlling an area that included parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
"November Three Zero Five Zulu," he said, before directing the plane to an altitude of 9,000 feet above sea level that the pilot had requested as part of his flight plan
Five minutes later, an open microphone broadcast the sound of panic as a murderous updraft and downdraft caused William Reid to lose control of the aircraft.
Stempien heard Reid yelling. "Let go of the yoke. Let go of the yoke. Let go of the yoke."
The plane had two yokes, referring to things like steering wheels that control the aircraft's elevator flaps and ailerons that work with the rudder to make it turn.
Cecelia had grabbed one yoke during the buffeting by the up- and down- drafts.
"All right. Is everybody OK, 305Z? You all right?" Stempien asked.
Stempien saw on his radar screen that the Reids' altitude was 8,100 feet; then 7,400; 8,500; 7,800; 6,900 and, finally, 5,000 feet.
Eventually, the pilot responded, and Stempien issued guidance to "follow your instruments," and "trust your instruments," in an effort to help the pilot regain control.
"I did show him descending, I did not have any information on what the exact problem was," Stempien said by telephone Friday. "I was racking my brain to figure out what was wrong and what I could do to help."
If the problem was mechanical, he could do little, but if it was spatial disorientation, he could assist.
So the instruction to heed the aircraft's instruments followed.
Cecilia Reid suggested Friday that spatial confusion was a factor. Around 20 miles east of Morgantown, West Virginia, they saw pea-soup fog and "we were looking at a wall of gray all the way around."
She said that at one point "I saw green hillside with green trees (hinting that they were much closer to the ground than originally believed). I thought we are dying here today, then peace came over me, then we were safe.
"David just calmed everything down, we got out of danger, we were level," she said.
At one point she heard the stall warning, she said, referring to stall speed, which is the point when an airplane is not going fast enough to maintain lift. (An equation governing powered fixed-wing flight is that lift plus thrust must be greater than weight plus drag.) She said there was also evidence that they had flown inverted because the doors to the wingtip fuel tanks were open.
Stempien said they regained control at 5,000 feet, a mere hundred feet above what is recognized as the lowest safe altitude. "If it would have taken 30 seconds longer to regain control, this could have ended very differently," he said matter of factly.
In October, Stempien gave them a range of options for a safe landing. They chose Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, about a week after the airfield's golf-superstar namesake had died.
That night they dined with William Reid's brother, Bob, who interjected a note of gallows humor when he said, "Well, at least you didn't meet Arnold."
Cecilia Reid, who attended the NATCA 2017 safety conference with her husband, William, said of the the air traffic controllers who were honored in March that "they were so humble. They would say, 'I'm just doing my job.'"
Thus, another less formal equation: An equal number of successful take-offs and landings is considered a good thing. Thus ends that chapter in the Reids' story.
Because one air traffic controller was just doing his job.
Original article can be found here: http://www.cleveland.com