Boston TRACON NATCA Member Assists Flight With Electrical Failure
Thursday, June 27, 2013

Boston TRACON (A90) NATCA member Gary Malinko was working the midshift on May 16 when he received a call from a Boston Center (ZBW) controller. Chautauqua Airlines Flight 6108 (CHQ6108), flying from La Guardia Airport to Bangor Airport, Maine, declared an emergency due to a total electrical failure. The flight with no transponder had 25 souls on board (SOB) and needed to divert to Manchester Airport (MHT).

Malinko vectored the pilot northbound, and told him the plan was to have CHQ1608 land at MHT via Instrument Landing System (ILS) on Runway 17. But the pilot replied that he could not navigate ILS because the electrical failure had taken out the plane’s navigation equipment – the plane was running solely on battery power and the only equipment working in the cockpit was the altimeter and heading gear.

As Malinko learned this, he was also getting primary information from the pilot and co-pilot – fuel on board, SOB, etc. – when he lost all ability to communicate with the aircraft.

Luckily, there was another commercial flight in the airspace that Malinko was able to enlist for assistance. Malinko was then able to transmit his guidance intended for CHQ1608 to the assisting aircraft, who acknowledged what Malinko said, and then transmitted the guidance to CHQ1608.

“For some reason, I have no idea why, the Chautauqua was able to hear him,” says Malinko.

This went back and forth for several transmissions, at which point the pilot of the assisting aircraft said his transmissions with CHQ1608 were failing.

With no way to communicate with CHQ1608, Malinko watched on his radar as the flight continued northbound, descending through 5,000 feet to the altitude Malinko originally assigned the pilot. But then the aircraft took a turn northwest bound towards mountainous terrain. Malinko kept trying, but still could not get a transmission through to the flight.

Thirty seconds later he says the pilot suddenly transmitted that he needed help from Malinko because he and the other pilot had no way of navigating. They were in the dark.

Malinko immediately calmed the pilots, giving them the “game plan” for getting to MHT. At that point, the flight was at 2,100 feet, and Malinko asked the pilots to vector eastbound towards the airport and execute a visual approach to MHT.

The pilot confirmed and began to execute Malinko’s directions. At the same time, the pilot of the assisting aircraft checked in with Malinko and said he had experience with the type of aircraft the pilots of CHQ1608 were flying. He informed Malinko that CHQ1608 had less than 10 minutes of battery power before the pilots would lose all ability to steer the plane.

Upon hearing that, Malinko realized the situation was critical, and he needed to get CHQ1608 on the ground immediately.

Malinko called MHT to get the emergency aircraft out to the tarmac, had the airport turn on all the lights it had as bright as they would go, and continued guiding the pilots in the direction of the field until he heard the pilot finally say, with tremendous relief, “We got it! We got it! We got the field in sight! We got the field in sight!”

The pilot then landed on Runway 17 without incident, and there were no injuries on board.

While Malinko was a big part in helping get the aircraft on the ground, he stressed something that a lot of air traffic controllers do after an emergency – his success was because of teamwork.

“I got good information from the Center during the handoff, the assist aircraft was incredibly helpful, the controller at my facility that was helping me out with managing the phones and the coordination was absolutely excellent – I’m super thankful to have had him behind me the whole time,” says Malinko. “And then I worked with the tower, making sure the pilot got on the ground.”

Above all though, Malinko praised the work of the pilots.

“The biggest piece of the puzzle was ultimately that the pilots were able to keep calm and do their jobs up there,” he says.

Malinko says that while the FAA trains controllers as best as possible, emergencies happen, and there’s no way to train every person for every possible situation.

“I’m a controller now for just four years, but I work next to an awful lot of very talented, very excellent controllers, and I think the best training I’ve received is working next to these guys every day and listening to how other people handle their emergency situations,” says Malinko. “For example, in training, you typically don’t learn how to use an assist aircraft to communicate to another aircraft but that is something I picked up from my coworkers.”

Malinko says watching the veteran controllers taught him how to stay calm in an emergency.

Like most controllers, Malinko doesn’t want any special recognition because he feels as though he was just “doing his job.”

“For me it felt like, and still feels like, I’m surprised anybody’s really interested in talking about this because I feel like this is what we do,” he says. “The guy landed the plane safely, he went home that night and I did the same. It just feels like that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

But A90 NATCA Facility Representative Andy Blanchard praises Malinko for his work that day.

“This is a great example of the quality and professionalism of our younger NATCA members,” he says. “Gary came in expecting a routine midshift and shortly after had to deal with this serious and potentially tragic emergency. He very effectively used all of the tools in his tool bag to get the aircraft below the cloud layer so that they could see the airport and land safely with about 10 minutes of battery power remaining.”

He continues, “I am truly proud of Gary’s work in this situation, and the professionalism that he displayed during this event.”