On April 12th, 2009 a Beech King Air 200, N55DW with one pilot and four passengers aboard departed Marco Island, FL for Jackson, MS. Shortly after takeoff a voice came on the Miami Center frequency and stated "I've gotta declare an emergency, my pilot's unconscious. I need help up here." and then "My pilot's deceased…I need help". The passenger, Doug White was sitting in the right seat to get a good view. His wife and two daughters were in the back. Luckily, Doug was a private pilot, but with low time (little experience) and no experience in a twin engine or turboprop aircraft of this complexity. The aircraft was in a 2000 ft. per minute climb as directed by the autopilot, but Doug was unsure of how to stop it.

Very quickly, air traffic controllers at Miami Center grabbed a fellow controller, Lisa Grimm, from another area who had some flight experience, brought her down to the sector and got her talking to Doug while the controller working the sector, Nate Henkels, intervened now and then to fire off instructions to the many aircraft he was also working. At the same time, controller Jessica Anays coordinated furiously with the surrounding sectors to get traffic rerouted out of and around their sector. Lisa succeeded in convincing Doug to disengage the auto-pilot and hand fly the King Air. "Alright" Doug said, "I disengaged it. I'm flyin' the airplane by hand." She calmed him down and together they managed to get him descending and turning and headed for Fort Meyers International Airport. "How you doin up there?" she querried. "oh, we're havin' a hoot" came the reply in Doug's thick southern drawl.

At Fort Meyers Approach Control, controller Brian Norton was on his way out the door to go home when his supervisor came running out to grab him and bring him back because of his pilot experience. Controller Dan Favino called a pilot friend of his in Danbury, CT, Kari Sorenson, who had experience in this type of aircraft and the two of them relayed instructions on configuring the King Air to Brian who passed them on to Doug. Doug succeeded in landing the aircraft safely and in an audibly shaken voice said "We're down buddy, thank you". Controller Carey Meadows then relayed instructions to Doug and assisted him in getting the engines shut down.

Doug left this event last easter and continued his aviation education and added a commercial IFR multi-engine rating to his pilots license. He was then seen several times flying the same aircraft (N559DW) back and forth to Haiti delivering aid after the earthquakes there. It was my incredible privilege to be present in Orlando this Tuesday when these controllers were honored by our union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). The Archie League Medal of Safety Awards, named after Archie League, the first U.S. air traffic controller, are bestowed by NATCA upon controllers for service that results in saving lives from dangerous situations. At this years ceremony, these controllers recieved Archie Awards as well as a Presidents Award for service above and beyond the call of duty.

I strongly encourage people to watch the last video on this page titled "NATCA President's Award / Doug White Presentation "where pilot Doug White joins the controllers on stage and speaks movingly about his experience that day. Hearing him speak was truly inspiring, there were several hundred people in the room and not a dry eye in the house. He made us laugh and cry at the same time as he expounded upon the individual initiative and teamwork that crystallized in minutes and saved his life and those of his family. I have never been so proud in all my life. There is a condensed version of the incident itself as it unfolded on the same page two blocks up titled "Southern Region - Lisa Grimm (and etc.)" where you can hear the radio transmissions of Doug and the controllers with text of their conversations. The video players on this page are a little difficult to manipulate, but if you can grab the slider and forward the Presidents Award video to start at 6:00 or so you will begin at the best part.

photograph of a Beech King Air 200 Instrument Panel

audio only

YouTube video of RADAR overlay with full audio (38 minutes), the aircraft N559DW is the white block of data.


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