ATW Editor's Blog

Extraordinary professionalism of Seattle air traffic controllers


There are lots of questions to be answered about Friday night’s bizarre incident in Seattle when a Horizon Air employee stole and crashed a Q400, but for now let’s acknowledge the incredible job done by the Air National Guard pilots and the air traffic controllers who handled the situation.

The two F-15C pilots, from the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland, Oregon, were scrambled to intercept the Q400 after it was confirmed that an unauthorized person had taken the aircraft from Seattle’s SeaTac airport, taken off and was flying over the area. They were, the Washington state governor said, “ready to do whatever was needed to protect us”, but they also seemed quickly to realize that this was a distressed individual, not a terrorist. They steered the aircraft away from the city.

Hearing the conversation between the guy who was piloting the plane and ATC is even more remarkable. The controller is calm, trying to work out a solution to get the aircraft down safely, but also compassionate. It’s heartbreaking to hear this man describe himself as “broken” and say he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He mentions how beautiful the Olympic mountains are and ATC responds, “ya, I have been out there, it’s always a nice drive.”

All the time, under what must have been incredible stress, ATC is working to getting a safe ending, pointing out a nearby runway that could be used, offering help on how to fly safely, and keeping the person talking. They couldn’t save this person, but they were instrumental in ensuring this wasn’t a much worse incident.

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