LouElla Hollingsworth, a veteran air traffic controller with 29 years’ experience, saved the pilot of a Piaggio Avanti when she recognized signs of hypoxia in his radio transmissions on November 16 last year. Thanks to Hollingsworth’s quick thinking as a Fort Worth Center controller in Texas, she convinced the pilot to descend to a lower altitude where the oxygen level was suitable for breathing.
Hollingsworth and eight other members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) were awarded Archie League Medals of Safety on March 6 for a variety of aircraft saves across the U.S.
The Piaggio–N501PM–was being flown single pilot when Hollingsworth cleared the pilot to climb to FL310 and noticed he did not respond. When she again queried the Avanti, she heard only breathing and a number of slurred sentences on the radio.
“November five zero one Papa Mike if you can hear me you need to probably start [down], descend and maintain flight level two four zero,” Hollingsworth said. Only noise is heard on the recording and then “oxygen…oxygen” can be heard. “November One Papa Mike, if you got oxygen try that and descend and maintain flight level one eight zero.” A few moments later, she added, “November Five Zero One Papa Mike, I see you’re out of 27  now descending, maintain flight level one eight zero and try some oxygen.”
Hollingsworth asked again how the pilot was feeling. “Thanks for the help,” he said. “For some reason the cabin altitude was showing OK but we had some oxygen issues.”