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NATCA Honors Rep. James Oberstar With “Sentinel of Safety” Award; Boston TRACON Controller Ken Hopf Wins “President's Award” - (5/17/2005)

WASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association saluted Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., with the first “Sentinel of Safety” award and Boston Terminal Radar Approach Controller Ken Hopf with the first “President’s Award” for the most outstanding flight assist of 2004 during a banquet Monday evening.

NATCA created the “Sentinel of Safety” Award as a way to honor a member of the aviation community outside of the NATCA organization who has displayed outstanding achievement in the advancement of aviation safety. The award is open to all leaders of the aviation community, with a special emphasis on those whose leadership on aviation safety issues has been historic, aggressive and courageous.

Oberstar, serving his 14th term representing Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, is the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and former chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. Among his contributions to aviation, he championed legislation and a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill in 2003 to prohibit the transfer of air traffic separation and control functions from the federal government to the private sector. He also sponsored the FAA Revitalization Act of 1995 to require FAA procurement and personnel reforms and in 1990 chaired hearings and wrote the legislation implementing the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism.

“We proudly present this year’s award to Congressman Oberstar for his lifelong dedication to the aviation industry,” NATCA President John Carr said. “Jim Oberstar is our champion and he has one of the biggest hearts in Congress, in every sense of that word. He has a compassionate heart, drawing upon his roots in the Democratic Farm Labor Party. His father was an iron miner and union organizer who passed on to Jim the values of loyalty and solidarity. But he also has the heart of a fighter, drawing upon his upbringing in the hardscrabble Iron Range of Minnesota.”

Carr on Monday night also presented the NATCA “President’s Award” to Hopf, who earlier in the evening was honored as the winner of the New England Region’s “Archie League Medal of Safety” award. Hopf’s love for aviation, which began in the Air Force, is immense. As a private pilot, flight instructor and air traffic controller, he has shared his passion with many others. He has exceptional knowledge on aircraft systems and airmanship. He is deeply involved in his flying club, and, in fact, maintains the club’s aircraft.

On the afternoon of August 9, 2004, Hopf took a call no controller ever wants to receive. A panic-stricken voice from aboard an aircraft in trouble came over the frequency. The pilot was unconscious. The single engine, 1988 Piper Malibu had just taken off from Laconia Airport in central New Hampshire. A passenger on the plane requested immediate assistance.

Hopf located the aircraft on his radar scope and then put his 22 years of controller experience – along with his knowledge as a Certified Flight Instructor – to work. He calmed the passenger down and very carefully went through the steps needed to get the aircraft turned around and back to the ground in Laconia.

“This was an incredibly dramatic event. It was Hopf’s calm voice that had an immediate effect on the person at the controls and she was better able to focus on piloting the complex aircraft despite the traumatic circumstances,” Carr said. “When you meet Ken, you immediately understand why he is not only a deserving, but likable honoree. A calming nature, engaging personality and infectious sense of humor help to ease co-workers and pilots alike. We are very honored to present him with this award for an absolutely outstanding and heroic save.”

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