Air Controllers Honored for Cool Handling of Engine Failure Before Va. Crash Landing

WASHINGTON — The flight last March from Charlotte toward an airport near Baltimore had troubles, almost from the start.

Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center controllers Jaymi Steinberg and Richard Wallace, had their hands full helping the pilot of a Piper PA-23-250, who had two children and an adult passenger aboard.

Steinberg said the pilot was dealing with poor weather, and had lost his navigation equipment during the March 27, 2016 flight.

“He was flying in the clouds, when he wasn’t licensed for that, flying toward terrain, and in an aircraft that didn’t have a lot of its equipment working,” she said.

Steinberg took notes of her conversation with the pilot, as her colleague, Wallace, assisted.

“There’s a lot to remember, especially when you’re going through a high stress incident,” said Steinberg. “You don’t want to forget anything critical, like which equipment is broken on that aircraft.”

“Basically nothing was working on the airplane, except for the engines and the altimeter setting,” Wallace said.

Within minutes, the pilot declared “mayday,” saying he’d lost power in both engines.

“I said there’s an airport of your left, about 15 miles, and there’s an airport of your right side, about 15 miles, and he goes ‘I’m not gonna make either, I need to put this thing down, now,'” Wallace recalled.

Wallace pulled out sectional charts and began to look for the nearest highway. He pointed out local roadways to the pilot and warned of terrain obstructions.

The pilot performed a forced landing on the median of a highway, 10 miles east of Danville, Virginia. The pilot suffered minor injuries; the three passengers escaped unhurt.

“I kept those kids in mind during the whole thing,” Wallace said.

Wallace and Steinberg were awarded with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s highest honors, during a recent awards banquet.

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