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MCAS Beaufort Air Traffic Control assists local pilot

By Lance Cpl. Jonah Lovy | Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort | November 30, 2015

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Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort exclusively handles military air traffic. Every once in a while, however, it becomes necessary to help fellow aviators out of bad situations. Marines with Air Traffic Control aboard the air station had the opportunity to do just that Nov. 30.

Samuel Tims, a local pilot, was taking his Cessna 182 aircraft out for a night flight when he ran into trouble. He began his night expecting to perform some night landings on the Beaufort County Airport. 

“I took off and as I cleared the departure end of the runway I caught the first hints of a thin layer of moisture,” said Tims. “Within a matter of seconds I was consumed inside of complete obscurity.”

The layer of fog was so thick that he could not see what was in front of him. Tims continued his climb and the fog eventually cleared at around 600 feet. When he reached 1000 feet he began his decent in order to land back at the airport.

“All was ok at this point and even though it was obscured, I could still make out the runway,” said Tims.

            As soon as he dipped back into the layer of fog he lost all visibility again. Unable to see the runway, Tims climbed to a safe altitude and began to assess his options.

“At this point, I called up Beaufort Approach,” said Tims. “I told them what had happened, that I had limited fuel.”

Flight control advised Tims to fly to the Lowcountry Regional Airport in Walterboro, S.C. However when he got there he saw that the runway there was also obscured. At this point he was running out of options.

“The word urgency had become emergency but it was hard to say,” said Tims.

The glide slope, a signal that allows pilots to track their approach for landing, had a very weak signal and Tims did not trust it enough to attempt a blind landing. He was directed to fly back to Beaufort County and attempt another landing. At this point air traffic control aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort received word about Tims’ predicament. Nick Wallace, an air traffic controller, contacted him over the radio.

“I told him that I didn't really want to declare an emergency but I also knew that I was running out of options,” said Tims. “At this point, I didn't hesitate any longer and declared the emergency.”

It became clear that the situation was life or death. Tims’ only option was to land on the air station.  Lance Cpl. Matthew Pittman took control of communications at this point.

“He instructed me not to reply to any of his instructions and began the rapid fire delivery of extremely clear and precise heading and glide slope information,” said Tims.

While descending to land on the runway, Tims once again lost all visibility. With guidance from Pittman he was able to safely navigate through the fog and land.  

“I can tell you that this was the most demanding experience I've faced as a pilot,” said Tims. “Taking an approach down to approximately 60 feet with zero visibility with only the guidance of verbal instruction was not easy.

Due to the extraordinary circumstances of the landing, safety personnel met him on the flight line to ensure the safety of everyone on the air station. Tims made it home safe and sound and has nothing but gratitude for the Marines who saved his life.

“Even though I was under a severe amount of stress, I can't help but think about how these controllers were feeling at the same time,” said Tims “I never heard anything but perfection in their voices and it was incredibly reassuring to have their assistance. I'm alive and healthy today because of two absolutely incredible controllers.”


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