Area air traffic controller wins national award for saving pilot in distress

Updated: Apr. 14, 2017 at 6:28 PM EDT
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OBERLIN, OH (WOIO) - It was a heart-stopping moment for a pilot who lost control of his plane over Cleveland. That's when a hero air traffic controller stepped in and saved his life.

David Stempien says it was one of the scariest moments on the job. Stempien was working at the Cleveland Center last October when a small plane got into some trouble.

"The aircraft was rapidly descending," he said. "I'm sitting there watching and I'm thinking, what could possibly be wrong?"

Here's how it played out over air control traffic:

"N305Z are you with Cleveland?"

"I can hear you but we're in trouble."

"Alright, what do you need, what do you need?"

Stempien told the pilot and his wife to take control of the instruments and he guided him through what could have been a disastrous situation. The whole thing lasted only a few minutes before the pilot was able to land the plane safely.

"You know there were times when I thought, it's possible they're gonna crash and when I finally received off and went to go take a walk, I was pretty overwhelmed," said Stempien.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association honored Stempien with it's highest honor, the Archie League Medal of Safety Award. Stempien accepted the award in Las Vegas. The award is for people who perform life-saving work.  But Stempien says, it's all part of the job.

"A job like this, you can never be prepared for every single situation, you just have to be able to handle them as they come," he said.

Stempien has his private pilot's license but says he loves working as an air controller.

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