After a Safe Landing, a Pilot Gives Thanks

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At the University of Illinois Willard Airport, Sept. 14, 2006, "started just like any other day," air-traffic controller David Murphy says. As Murphy tells NPR's Renee Montagne, it was early in his shift when pilot Willard Nickisch found himself in trouble. Nickisch was fighting against his autopilot, which was trying to put his Piper Seneca III into a nosedive. When Nickisch, who was flying alone, contacted air-traffic control for help, Murphy was there.

The Archie League Medal of Safety awards are given out by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to controllers who displayed extraordinary skill in critical situations. Named for the first air-traffic controller, 10 controllers from around the country receive the award in recognition of their "saves." Murphy and Yasemin Parker were recognized this year for their work guiding Nickisch to a safe landing.

"As air-traffic controllers, we put ourselves in the cockpit, and my job is to take the stress off him," Murphy says.

A Pilot's Letter of Thanks

Air traffic controller David Murphy guided pilot Willard Nickisch to safety when his Piper Seneca III aircraft became stuck in a nose dive due to a malfunctioning auto pilot.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

FAA Team
Air Traffic Manager
University of Illinois
Willard Airport
1 Airport Road
Savoy, IL 61874

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU for saving my life yesterday! I have been a pilot since 1969 and currently am an airline transport pilot with my airplane multiengine land rating and commercial privileges in airplane singe engine land and sea.

Yesterday I was returning to St. Louis from Michigan in my Seneca III when I inadvertently created an activity that caused the autopilot to adjust the trim to the nose down stop, within seconds. It took both hands and my legs to straighten and maintain altitude after the initial rapid decent. Literally, my hands were full when your controller questioned my altitude. Recognizing the gravity of my situation, she responded very professionally and ultimately handed me over to another controller.

Being I had disconnected the circuit breakers thinking it was an autopilot problem I did not have a working gyro compass. Your controller was knowledgeable about using the information he had, to tell me when to turn and when to stop the turn, along with allowing me to descend altitude. He was able to direct me to a successful landing while I was flying with full nose down trim.

I have subsequently learned what and why it happened and the proper emergency steps to take should this happen in the future. However, I would not be here today if it were not for your people on duty yesterday. I am forever grateful to God (and the U.S. Government) for your being there.

Please share my thanks and gratitude to the great people who helped me to live another day.


Willard W. Nickisch



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