Western Pacific Region
Southern California TRACON
On the evening of Nov. 16, 2007 in the Southern California TRACON, controllers Bruce Snoddy and Bill Jacobs were busy working traffic into the Carlsbad Palomar Airport when they received a call on their frequency from a pilot asking for help. At first, the controllers were unable to determine the location of the aircraft, but after the pilot was able to squawk 7700, the controllers located it 20 miles northeast of Tijuana, Mexico. Snoddy immediately issued the lost pilot altitudes and headings to point her in the correct direction.
As Snoddy and Jacobs continued to work all the other traffic on their frequency, it became apparent that the lost pilot needed more attention. Jacobs decided to split off the frequency and open up a second one, where he would remain for the next hour, working to get the pilot safely to Gillespie Field.
Jacobs was able to vector the pilot directly towards Gillespie, but she could not locate the airport amongst all the other lights in the vicinity. Jacobs tried to help, saying, “the airport is just off your left side,” and “when you turn to the left, the airport is just behind you to the left.” This continued as the pilot circled the area, attempting to locate the runway lights.
The student pilot, who had already mentioned that her instructor was going to be upset with her for getting lost, started to apologize for not seeing the airport, “I don’t see the airport. I’m really sorry.”
After flying directly over the airport and being vectored back around for another attempt, Jacobs pointed out other landing aircraft in the vicinity in an effort to get the pilot to follow these aircraft towards the runway. But the pilot had trouble distinguishing the traffic heading towards Gillespie with other traffic in the air.
The pilot grew increasingly more upset as the time passed. Jacobs remained calm, encouraging the pilot to take her time and just fly the aircraft.
Finally, she spotted the runway. Jacobs asked if she was able to switch frequencies to talk with the tower, but she indicated she could not see anything in the cockpit, because it had gotten dark. The pilot remained on Jacobs’ frequency as she approached the runway for landing.
Unfortunately, her first attempt at landing was unsuccessful, so she went around for a second time. Jacobs then instructed her to, “Be calm, take you time, fly the airplane, and let me know when you get turned back around for the runway.”
After a few moments of silence the pilot was heard saying, “I finally landed this aircraft. Thank goodness.”
But the pilot was overcome with emotion and unable to taxi her aircraft. Jacobs attempted to help her off the runway, but she could not locate her parking area. Jacobs then encouraged her to pull off the runway onto a taxiway as he radioed the tower for help. Soon after, a truck appeared and was able to help the pilot taxi her aircraft. A potentially disastrous situation ended calmly and safely.
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