Anchorage air traffic controller helps guide F-18 to safety

Published: Apr. 13, 2017 at 1:32 PM AKDT
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An Anchorage based air traffic controller potentially saves the life of an F-18 pilot after the plane lost an engine over the Bering Sea.

On July 25, 2016, two F-18 left Eielson Air Force Base, headed for Asia when one of the F-18’s piloted by Navy Pilot Capt. Jesse Simmermon of the Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 lost an engine.

Capt. Simmermon declared an emergency about 2-hours into the flight, turning around, en route to King Salmon, but at that point King Salmon was about 600 miles away, that’s when Air Traffic Specialist Jessica Earp stepped in.

“He (Capt. Simmermon) did a really good job of downplaying how critical of an emergency he was in actually,” said Earp. “He’s part of a Marine unit, All Weather Marine Unit who flies F-18’s. He was very calm about the idea that he might have to get wet that day. He was worried that he was going to have to ditch his airplane and he was very thankful he didn’t have to go swimming in the Bering Sea.”

Over the period of about 2-hours, Earp helped assist both F-18’s travel about 300 miles to reach Saint Paul Island airport.

Because of Earp’s role in helping the F-18's land safely, she was awarded the Archie League Medal of Safety Award. That's the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's highest honor, typically awarded to an individual who performed life-saving work. Earp says she also received a letter from the pilot and his family, thanking her for saving his life.

“I think that both of us were pretty calm and collected throughout the whole thing,” Earp said. “It’s not until after you get up and walk away that the stress of the situation hits you. In the moment you just don’t think about it.”