Pilot aided by Atlanta controllers: ‘God gave me that … runway’

Atlanta air traffic controllers who deftly guided the nervous pilot of a small plane through an emergency landing at the world’s busiest airport are being honored for their performance during the incident.

On Feb. 14, 2016, pilot Cathy Lewan was flying a single engine Cessna 172S to take aerial photos about 10 miles southwest of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Her plane’s throttle malfunctioned, and she contacted the Atlanta terminal radar approach control facility in Peachtree City.

Controller Mason Braddock suggested she circle the airport to burn fuel. Keith Tyus, an traffic manager who is also a flight instructor, stepped in to help Lewan with an emergency landing procedure.

That procedure required a gradual, low-speed descent, then called for the pilot to shut off the engine once over the runway, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

“Can I ask you one more favor?” Lewan asked Braddock after they reviewed the procedure. “Would you call my husband for me?”

Airport fire trucks were staged on the runway in preparation for her landing, and she was uneasy.

“And if you could ask him to put a prayer chain out to my church and ask the whole church to start praying, and everybody else that’s listening … tell him that I love him and call my mother,” Lewan said, according to a transcript. “I know I’m going to be fine cause you’re helping me and the good Lord is helping me, but I always need prayer.”

Braddock said they would call her husband. “It’s gonna be fine,” he reassured her.

INTERACTIVE: Play the video below to hear Atlanta TRACON work with pilot Cathy Lewan to bring her plane down safely.

Lewan did a practice approach, then landed safely.

Braddock and Tyus, along with colleagues Patrick Burrows, Nichole Surunis and Clay Sutton, will accept the National Air Traffic Controllers Association medal of safety award at the union’s conference in Las Vegas next week.

“You know, if I had an emergency and I had to put it down in a field I think I could do it in a second,” Lewan said to Braddock during their exchange. “I think there’s something about having to land at Hartsfield. The whole amount of red and blue lights … it just unnerves ya’ a little bit, but I’m fine.”

But she also was thankful to be near such a huge airport.

“There’s plenty of equipment to help you and there’s plenty of runway to work with so, uh, that’s the preferred route,” Braddock told her at one point.

“No doubt about it,” she replied. “God gave me that 9,000-foot runway and I do appreciate it.”

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