Air controllers honored for cool handling of engine failure before Va. crash landing

WASHINGTON — The flight last March from Charlotte toward an airport near Baltimore had troubles, almost from the start.

South Carolina endoscopist  Stephen Lloyd was flying a colleague and his two children — ages 11 and 9 —  to Maryland after Easter break in his Piper PA-23-250, which he had been flying for more than 10 years.

“My auto-pilot wasn’t engaging, and then I realized I’d lost most of my instruments,” Lloyd told WTOP.

To compound matters, bad weather had severely limited his visibility.

“I was in the soup,” said Lloyd. “I wasn’t able to see out the window, and I didn’t know up from down.”

Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center controllers Jaymi Steinberg and Richard Wallace were there for Lloyd, during the March 27, 2016 flight.

“He was flying in the clouds, when he wasn’t licensed for that, flying toward terrain, and in an aircraft that didn’t have a lot of its equipment working,” she said.

Steinberg took notes of her conversation with the pilot, as her colleague, Wallace, assisted.

“There’s a lot to remember, especially when you’re going through a high stress incident,” said Steinberg. “You don’t want to forget anything critical, like which equipment is broken on that aircraft.”

“Basically nothing was working on the airplane, except for the engines and the altimeter setting,” Wallace said.

Within minutes, Lloyd  declared “mayday,” saying he’d lost power in both engines.

“I’d lost one engine before, but  this was the first time I lost them both,” recalled Lloyd.

“I said there’s an airport of your left, about 15 miles, and there’s an airport of your right side, about 15 miles, and he goes ‘I’m not gonna make either, I need to put this thing down, now,'” Wallace recalled.

Wallace pulled out sectional charts and began to look for the nearest highway. He pointed out local roadways to the pilot and warned of terrain obstructions.

Lloyd said his training instructors had taught most injuries and deaths in a small plane crash come from fuel fire, “so when you’re going to crash the idea is to leave as much of the fuel behind as you can,” by purposely shearing off the plane’s wings.

“When I came out of the clouds, I only had about 30 seconds before I was going to hit the ground, so I aimed at two trees,” Lloyd said. “I took out a lot of limbs.”

After hitting the trees, Lloyd’s plane flipped on the median of a highway, 10 miles east of Danville, Virginia. He  suffered minor injuries; the three passengers walked away, unhurt.

“I kept those kids in mind during the whole thing,” Wallace said.

Lloyd said Wallace and Steinberg are heroes.

“They were unbelievable, I owe them so much,” he said.

Wallace and Steinberg were awarded with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s highest honors, during a recent awards banquet.

Listen to air traffic controller Rick Wallace’s work, assisting the pilot of a disabled plane below. 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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