Flying Readers Weigh in on ATC Emergency Debacle

Our readers give their take on the recent ATC incident.

Air Traffic Control
Air Traffic Control

As the story of air traffic controllers ignoring a recent distress call spread, Flying readers took to Facebook this week to voice their opinions on the incident. Here are some snippets from the informal debate sparked by the story:

_“Obviously, the controller had a cognitive bias in place, but I think the whole incident could have been avoided if the pilot had the presence of mine to say "UNITED fifty-nine twelve" instead of just "fifty-nine twelve" when the controller asked who had made the first transmission. I can see how under certain circumstances the controller could have heard the word "fifty-nine" as the word "United" to come up with the whole idea of there being a bogus "United 12" call, but "United fifty-nine twelve" would have been unmistakable.__Don't communicate in order that people understand you, communicate so it is impossible to MISunderstand you.”_ - K.M.
_“I can agree with the comment about using the whole callsign and flight number together. But with the nature of their emergency being that of smoke in the cockpit, there is some form of panic for the pilots even if we try to avoid that panic. Smoke in the cockpit is one of the worst emergencies anyone could have, even if you try, it's hard to keep your cool. So therefore mistakes like missing "United" are understandable.__I would say that the controller could have done more to ask which aircraft was in emergency, whether by asking other airplanes to help him out who heard the transmission or further ask around. If you hear emergency let alone a smoke in the cockpit or fire on board emergency, a controller can't take it lightly. Even if it was someone on the handheld, they have to take the mindset that it's real...much like every fire drill we ever took must be treated as if it was a real fire.”_ - R.M.
“Mayday mayday mayday, United fifty nine twelve, smoke in the cabin. Standard phraseology would have avoided this.” - A.G.
_“I actually can see both sides of the argument here. The crew, while under one of the worst in flight scenarios short of the wings falling off, was less than 100% in their radio work and made life harder on the controllers. The controllers, maybe due to increased prank calls in the recent past, were too quick to dismiss the real one and moved on to other pressing business....landing a multitude of airplanes safely at one of the busier airports in the country.__The big difference for me is in the fact that at no time are the lives of the controllers in danger. They should therefore be able to cope with the calls in a more professional manner. Treat it like a real emergency, and if it turns out to be a hoax let law enforcement come up with a way to deal with the assholes who do that sort of thing.__I certainly hope I never have to make a mayday call while flying my Saratoga, but I certainly hope if I do it will be taken seriously by ATC.”_ - S.W.

Read the full story and hear audio of the incident here. Also, see what others are saying or join in the conversation at our Facebook page.