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Anchorage air traffic controller awarded for helping save fighter jet pilot

By Shannon Ballard 6:05 PM April 13, 2017

An Anchorage air traffic controller is being recognized nationally for her part in helping the pilot of a Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet land his plane safely on the ground after one of his engines failed over the Bering Sea.

In an audio recording from July 25, 2016, you can hear Capt. Jesse Simmermon tell controller Jessica Earp that his aircraft was in a full descent.

“It’s definitely an adrenaline release after the fact. You walk away and then it hits you how serious that was,” Earp said.

The fighter jet took off from Eielson Air Force base and was on its way to Asia for a training exercise when the aircraft malfunctioned, according to the Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).

Capt. Simmermon had to reduce power in order to conserve fuel, which was already running low.

To make matters more dire, weather surrounding the Aleutian Chain was poor, but Earp successfully directed the jet to a small runway on St. Paul Island.

The pilot was preparing to ditch the F-18 into the middle of the ocean. Earp’s quick thinking presented an alternative solution the pilot had not considered.

She later received letters from the Capt. Simmermon and his family, thanking her for potentially saving his life.

U.S. Navy Capt. Jesse Simmermon (second from left) poses with his family. (Courtesy: NATCA)

“He was very thankful that he did not have to go swimming in the Bering Sea because nobody wants to do that. It’s not a pleasant experience and his parents are just very thankful that I was able to help him out that day,” Earp said. “He’s actually serving his country right now because he continued on to do what he loves doing.”

Jessica Earp (second from left) receiving the Archie League Medal of Safety. (Courtesy: NATCA)

Earp was awarded the Archie League Medal of Safety award by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

It’s the organization’s highest honor, only given to controllers who have performed lifesaving work.

Correction: The F/A-18 Hornet was a Marine Corps plane, not a Navy plane as originally reported in the NATCA press release. 

KTVA 11’s Shannon Ballard can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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