FAA Lauds Controllers, Pilot In King Air Save

James E. Swickard james_swickard@aviationweek.com

The FAA is heaping praise on two TRACON controllers and a Danbury, Conn., pilot for teaming up to help a low-time pilot passenger safely land a King Air B200 Sunday after the pilot died in the cockpit.

According to an FAA description of the incident, Brian Norton and Dan Favio, both work the TRACON at Southwest Florida International Airport in Ft. Myers, Fla., but climbed to the tower cab to work the emergency. "I couldn't be more proud of them," said Steve Bushey, the tower's manager. "We're happy to have a good story and particularly because the outcome was positive. You can't beat that."

One of the passengers on the King Air, Doug White, actually owns the company that leases out the plane but had never flown it. He has about 230 hours total time and about 150 hours exclusively in single-engine planes. King Air N559DW was climbing through 10,000 feet on autopilot - en route from Marco, Island Fla., to Louisiana with an en route stop in Mississippi to drop off White and continue with White's wife and two teenage daughters. The family had attended a funeral for White's brother. When the left-seater, Joe Cabuk, lapsed into unconsciousness, White and his wife tried to extricate him from the cockpit, but to no avail. They strapped him back into the seat to keep him from slumping onto the controls, and White got into the right seat and declared an emergency with Miami Center. Controllers at the Ft. Myers Airport were quickly notified, and a radar scope showing only the King Air was set up in the tower.

Controller Brian Norton was walking down the hallway and ready to leave for the day when his supervisor called him back because he had piloting experience. He plugged into the console and "could tell the pilot was struggling a little bit to get the plane under control. He told me he was getting alarms in the cockpit and he was descending too fast," Norton said.

Dan Favio, a developmental controller who has been with the FAA for six months after military and private contracting controller experience, learned of the problem while he was eating lunch.

Thinking quickly, FAA said, he called a friend and flight instructor, Kari Sorenson, a resident of Danbury, Conn., who had about 3,500 hours of flight experience in the King Air 200.

"I sat beside Brian and called [Sorenson]," Favio said. "He just happened to be sitting in his office and he was able to pull out the checklist for the [King Air 200] and the cockpit diagram." Sorenson told local newspapers that even though he hadn't flown the King Air 200 since 1994, he still had the manuals and checklist at hand.

As the pilot asked questions - air speed, flap control, trim locations - Favio relayed the questions back to his friend. "He definitely had his hands full. He was concerned about being able to handle that airplane," Norton said.

At first, White reported having difficulty trying to control the King Air 200. Sorenson told him - through the controllers - to fly it like it was a single-engine plane. "Once he started doing that that's when things really started to settle down," Sorenson said.

About six miles from Runway 6, with the winds nearly calm, White asked for a final approach speed. Favio asked his friend in Danbury and the answer was relayed to White, according to the FAA.

Through that relay, Norton helped White line up his approach, set the flaps and put the landing gear down at the proper airspeed and altitude. Meanwhile, Favio was calling out altitudes and airspeeds back to Sorenson. White made a smooth landing on Ft. Meyers' 12,000-foot runway.

ATC tapes recorded an audibly shaken White saying, "We're down, buddy. Thank you."

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