Seventh Annual NATCA Archie League Medal of Safety Awards
President’s Award Winner (overall best flight assist of
Derek Bittman, Atlanta Center
On Jan. 16, 2010, certified professional controller Derek
Bittman stumbled across a particular situation that could have easily changed
forever the life he had come to know so well.
Bittman was working the Dallas sector at Atlanta Center that
day, the busiest and most complex sector in the world, when he was handed over
a pilot with navigation equipment mal- functions. This pilot, planning to end
his trip in the Atlanta terminal area, had already missed two approaches at the
destination due to low ceilings and fog, and furthermore, was low on fuel.
After discussing various choices, the pilot opted to proceed to Rome (RMG) for
a last attempt, a fairly busy general aviation airport 60 miles northwest of
BITTMAN (From the audiotape of event) “If you can’t make
this approach at Rome do you want to go, try and go somewhere else? Do you have
a plan B?
N3011N: “This was plan B, one-one november.”
Confirming Bittman’s fears, the pilot declared a few minutes
later that he was still not able to find the airport. With rapidly diminishing
options and only 45 minutes of fuel remaining, N3011N was now in a very
After advising that his only offer for the aircraft at this
point would be another attempt of the ILS into RMG, Bittman learned that the
pilot was not only having trouble with his glide slope on the VOR but his
lateral CDI, as well. In receiving this information, Bittman declared an
emergency on behalf of the pilot. Providing vectors back to the RMG VOR, he
informed the pilot of the area’s numerous highways should the escalating
situation resort to immediate landing.
With the VOR the pilot was using to find the airport now
malfunctioning, Bittman was forced to use his last resort. Having already split
off the sector in order to provide sole attention to the aircraft, he began
application of his knowledge from past Marine Corps experience to help this
pilot find the airport. He provided precision vectors, similar to an ASR
approach, to the aircraft while using the approach plate to give vertical
guidance – a tactic not commonly used by the enroute center due to its
unreliable radar data and the absence of minimum vectoring altitudes.
(From the audio tape) “November one-one november, uh, make
sure you understand sir, the calls that I’m giving you are suggestive in nature
sir. I do not have a glide slope or a localizer depicted on the scope,”
“Increase the rate of descent...appears you’re left of
course and going farther left. Turn five degrees right,” he continued.
“November one-one november, radar contact lost, two and a half miles south of
the Rome Airport. Last track I had on you had you on course into Rome Airport.”
Due to the quick actions by this educated controller, the
pilot was able to make visual contact with the runway right before the
touchdown point. As it happens, he ran out of gas while taxiing to the ramp,
confirming the fact that Bittman’s efforts saved his life.
Bittman used his experience and his skill to help this pilot
in his efforts to reach the ground, remarkable qualities both honorable and
extraordinary. Bittman made a truly committed controller’s decision – the
decision to do whatever it took to save a life.
To hear the audio of Derek's save, edited down to the most pertinent
portions, please click here:
To view the transcript of this recording, please click here:
To see a WSB-TV (Atlanta) story about Derek that ran on April 10,
please click here:
To hear an NPR story that includes an interview with Derek from
March 27, please click here: