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A recent aircraft accident (AF447—Air France Airbus lost over the Atlantic enroute from Buenos Aires to Paris) prompted discussion on one of the ATC blogs concerning overdue aircraft and controller responsibilities. Although I dealt with several over the course of 30 years, almost all resulted in finding the a/c parked or some such benign result. My sole experience otherwise is reported at:
I wasn't the actual controller on the radio—it was a midnight shift, and there were four of us sitting in the middle of the area playing cards or some board game. The frequencies were all on speaker, of course, and this was the only aircraft in the whole area. A coworker vectored him for the ILS approach at PIA, switched him to the tower frequency (the tower was closed on the mid but the frequency is still used as the CTAF—common traffic advisory frequency) and we never heard from him again. As is the custom, we reported the overdue to the watch desk after 30 minutes of no report, who contacted ISP (Illinois State Police), who found the wreckage an hour or so later.
No, I didn't key the mike, but I was two feet away from the guy who did, and I witnessed the whole thing. I made the call to the watch desk, though. Nothing untoward at the time, but after learning the followup it never leaves you. There's an oft-quoted line, usually cited by airline pilots, that no controller ever died falling off his chair. True enough, but if you're involved in one of those incidents, however peripherally, a little bit of you inside is never alive again.
Last updated: 04 February 2010