From Dave Kammeyer, a pilot-reader who was more impressed by the pilot-hero in this recent case than with the much-celebrated air traffic controller.
I heard the audio of the King Air pilot the other day, and found it very interesting. You didn't mention it in your post, but frankly, when I imagined what would happen in a similar situation, I thought that the controller would be a lot more helpful.
It was like pulling teeth just to get a proper approach speed from the controller. As a pilot of little single engine aircraft myself, I was imagining the information I would need to get the plane on the ground, and things that I would want from the controller would be:
1. Flap and gear deployment speeds, which eventually were provided 2. The appropriate flap settings 3. The appropriate power setting for approach, which was never provided 4. How to operate the various controls, which the pilot figured out without any help from the controller
When I read the press accounts of the incident, they were really just NATCA [air traffic controllers' union] press releases, which heaped huge praise on the controller, who kept his cool, but failed to provide timely critical information. In this case I think that basically all of the credit belongs to the pilot, who figured out how to make an adequate approach without much help.
Imagining the situation where a non-pilot passenger was forced to take control in the same situation, I don't think that this controller could have gotten them on the ground. I don't understand why they didn't patch a King Air pilot onto the radio directly...
I will admit that some of the same thoughts occurred to me when listening. The controller was faultlessly calm, supportive, and reassuring, and for that he deserves great praise. But the real above-and-beyond performance here was by Douglas White, who suddenly was in charge of a high-powered twin-engine plane with a dead man slumped across the controls to his left. If Tom Wolfe were re-writing the intro to The Right Stuff, which so memorably begins with evocation of the slow, confident drawl of airline pilots who can't be ruffled by anything, he could do worse than to recreate this recording of a man landing an airplane he had never flown before, while returning from his brother's funeral, with his loved ones aboard.
Update: Jorge Guajardo, a pilot-friend who in his day job is Mexico's Ambassador in Beijing, notices one other intriguing element of the recording.
Amb. Guajardo writes:
I too thought the controller handled it well providing some hand holding at a critical time. But, was I the only one surprised by his handing over the pilot to ground control after landing? I mean, really? You just land this plane after thinking you were going to die and, as soon as you complete this miraculous endeavour you're told to "contact ground control on 121.9". So what's the deal? You contact ground and they instruct you to turn left on Bravo and hold short of Runway 6L. Afterwards, clear to cross 6L, taxi right on Charlie and left on Delta. You reach the FBO to be met by a line person asking you how many gallons of jet fuel you need.
I figured once the pilot landed he would be told how to shut down the engines and have someone immediately offer medical assistance to the collapsed pilot (how can they be sure he's dead) and perhaps tow the plane. I don't know, it just struck me as weird.Yes, "contact ground" is the routine next step after any routine landing. In this case, after the extremely non-routine nature of what has gone before, the ho-hum nature of the instruction is incongruous. It would be as if in the movie Speed, after Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock got safely off the bomb-loaded runaway bus, someone asked them if they wanted a bus transfer. But again, everyone involved here deserves respect.