Local air traffic controller saves pilot in distress

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OBERLIN – Newly released audio by the Federal Aviation Administration recounts terrifying moments mid-flight between a West Virginia pilot and an air traffic controller at the Cleveland Radar Center.

“Help! [Unreadable] [heavy breathing] [screaming],” screamed pilot William Reed Jr. according to FAA transcripts of an open microphone broadcast. “Let go of the yoke. Let go of the yoke. Let go of the yoke.”

Air traffic controller David Stempien’s eyes were glued to the radar screen as William Reed’s 1960 Beechcraft Debonair rapidly descended from 8,100 feet to 5,000 feet.

“Is everybody ok zero five Zulu,” asked Stempien. “Alright? November three zero five Zulu, are you with Cleveland?”

November Three Zero Five Zulu is shorthand for the plane Reed was flying with his wife Cecelia, a passenger on October 1, 2016.

“What do you need, what do you need?,” responded Stempien. “November three zero five Zulu, follow your instruments. Follow your instruments. November three zero five Zulu, I show you descending. Follow your instruments, sir. Trust your instruments.”

According to FAA transcripts the aircraft was caught in a bad updraft that caused the pilot to lose control.

“I went way up, no matter what I did it was still climbing and then all of a sudden it let go the other way,” said Reed while flying the small plane in Pennsylvania.

The ordeal lasted a few minutes. The entire time Stempien calmly responded to the crisis. Never letting Reed know just how scared he truly was.

“I was nervous I’m sitting there starting at a screen feeling a little bit helpless because I’m watching this happen,” said Stempien. “I know there’s people on the airplane and they’re descending very quickly.”

Stempien’s calm demeanor landed him a national award for the way he handled the scare. He was presented the award from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in Las Vegas in March where he got to meet the people he helped save.

“I was really scared,” said Cecelia Reed recounting the flight during a speech at the banquet. “Once we got out of the soup I saw this hillside with green trees and I thought, we’re dying here today, and this peace kind of came over me and almost instantaneously we were out of it.”

Here is the entire recording of the encounter:

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