Air traffic controllers honored for guiding plane to safety
By Kelly Schlicht
ASHWAUBENON – You may remember a small plane's rough landing from February of last year.The pilot was forced to land at an Oconto County airport after running into trouble. Thankfully, all on board survived. Now the men who helped guide that plane to safety are being honored.They'll head to Las Vegas next week for recognition from the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers. But first, they told their story to FOX 11’s Kelly Schlicht.The late shift on Thursday, February 13, 2014 began like any other for air traffic controllers at Austin Straubel Airport.“It was around four or five o’clock. The plane was coming from Rochester, Minn., and it was scheduled to land in Menominee,” said Justin Krenke, an air traffic controller.Krenke was on a radio transmission with the pilot of this plane, John Laws, when the aircraft ran into trouble.“Some instruments basically failed. He knew they wouldn't be able to make it into Menominee so he said I need to get out of this icing. It just kept accumulating ice and couldn't get rid of the ice on the airplane. Krenke tried to guide the pilot to a safety."If you need to descended below 2500 and declare an emergency we can try to get you on an approach to Oconto,” said Krenke on the air traffic control recording.“Compassion Flight 06Q, we are declaring an emergency,” said the pilot.Fellow air traffic controller Adam Helm stepped in to help.“As soon as we knew that the airplane was going to land in Oconto, we got on the phone and asked them to get crash, fire rescue, fire trucks out there,” said Helm. Meanwhile, their coworker Mike Osterander took over all other direction in the tower.“When this happened, I just tried to take as much of the other things to do off of him so he could concentrate on it,” said Osterander. But as the pilot neared Oconto, he couldn't land.“I see it on my right side, I didn't land. It looks like they're plowing,” said the pilot. “I lost radar contact and lost communication with him, and Adam was on the phone with some Oconto fire and rescue and also the county saying get the plows off the runway this is an emergency. He came around and circled and crashed, but everyone survived. So, it was a good outcome,” said Krenke.Now the three men will be honored by their industry for keeping their cool.“You feel like you’re a part of the plane and the person flying it, even though I'm sitting in a room looking at a screen. It was pretty scary. I don't want to have to do it again,” said Krenke.But the three insist they were just doing their jobs, helping keep the skies and all who fly them safe.