Lifesavers: Palm Beach air traffic control honored for 'heroic' emergency plane landing

·2 min read

WEST PALM BEACH — Palm Beach County leaders honored five air traffic control employees Monday morning for their "heroic" roles in instructing a passenger with no flying experience to land safely at Palm Beach International Airport on May 10.

Air traffic control specialists Greg Battani and Robert Morgan, operations supervisor Josh Somers, PBIA operations manager Mark Siviglia and air traffic manager Ryan Warren received commendations for helping to clear the airspace, organizing emergency responses and instructing Darren Harrison of Lakeland to land the plane.

"What they were able to accomplish – what they were able to do – saved the lives of the people on that plane," Palm Beach County Mayor Robert Weinroth said of the men.

Air traffic controllers and their families receive commendation from Palm Beach County leaders on May 23, 2022. From left: Joshua Somers; Greg Battani and his wife, Molly, their daughter Natalie, 8, and their son, Eli, 6; Mark Saviglia; Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss; Ryan Warren and his wife, Karen, their sons Colton, 8, and Tyler, 10; Robert Morgan and his wife Michelle, their daughter Chloe, 11, their son Christian, 16, and Michelle's parents, Norman Letendre and Lorraine Letendre.
Air traffic controllers and their families receive commendation from Palm Beach County leaders on May 23, 2022. From left: Joshua Somers; Greg Battani and his wife, Molly, their daughter Natalie, 8, and their son, Eli, 6; Mark Saviglia; Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss; Ryan Warren and his wife, Karen, their sons Colton, 8, and Tyler, 10; Robert Morgan and his wife Michelle, their daughter Chloe, 11, their son Christian, 16, and Michelle's parents, Norman Letendre and Lorraine Letendre.

More on the pilot: Emergency landing in Florida: Pilot who lost consciousness in mid-air suffered aortic tear

Inside the landing: 76 minutes of suspense: How an air traffic controller's calm guidance helped avoid a disaster

First look: 'I felt like I was in a movie': Jupiter air traffic controller helps passenger land plane at PBIA

PBIA air traffic control helps coordinate the landings and takeoffs of about 650 planes per day, Weinroth said. While air traffic controllers are trained for a variety of emergencies, none come close to helping a passenger complete an emergency landing.

"There is no manual for what happened on May 10," Warren said in a short speech accepting the commendations on behalf of the team. "If there was, it would mirror the actions of all those on duty."

Warren called the medical emergency that incapacitated the pilot a "passenger's worst nightmare."

Ryan Warren, air traffic manager at Palm Beach International Airport, receives a commendation from Palm Beach County Mayor Robert Weinroth on May 23, 2022, for his and his team's contributions to helping a passenger land a plane safely at the airport May 10.
Ryan Warren, air traffic manager at Palm Beach International Airport, receives a commendation from Palm Beach County Mayor Robert Weinroth on May 23, 2022, for his and his team's contributions to helping a passenger land a plane safely at the airport May 10.

Update on pilot in emergency plane landing at PBIA

The pilot of the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan suffered a tear in his body's main artery, located near his heart, at about 11:15 a.m. on May 10 while he was flying at about 9,100 feet to Treasure Coast International Airport.

Once he lost consciousness, the plane fell into a nosedive. Harrison took control of the plane and radioed Fort Pierce Air Traffic Control, where Chip Flores and Justin Boyle answered the call.

The team tried to locate the plane and transferred the call to PBIA, where the air traffic control team brought the nine-seater north from Boca Raton and instructed Harrison on how to land on runway 10E at the airport. 

Kenneth Allen and his wife, Stanna, onboard a plane. Allen lost consciousness on May 10 on a flight back from The Bahamas, leaving two passengers with no flight experience to land the plane. They safely arrived at Palm Beach International Airport, where Allen was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery for a tear in his heart's aorta.
Kenneth Allen and his wife, Stanna, onboard a plane. Allen lost consciousness on May 10 on a flight back from The Bahamas, leaving two passengers with no flight experience to land the plane. They safely arrived at Palm Beach International Airport, where Allen was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery for a tear in his heart's aorta.

"Make no mistake. This was not a case where all the stars aligned," Warren said. Instead, it's "a reflection of the safety culture at Palm Beach and the Federal Aviation Administration. Safety is not an accident."

Once the plane landed safely, 64-year-old pilot Kenneth Allen was transferred to St. Mary's Medical Center and then Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center for lifesaving surgery to repair his aorta.

Dr. Nishant Patel's surgery lasted several hours, and Allen was released from the hospital May 16.

Katherine Kokal is a journalist covering northern Palm Beach County at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at kkokal@pbpost.com. Help support our work, subscribe today!

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Emergency plane landing in Florida: Palm Beach air traffic control honored