This Air Traffic Controller Guided a Harrier Jump-Jet to a Safe Landing


It could have been the start of a nightmare scenario.

Between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a rainy night last December, Cpl. Justin McDaniel, an air traffic controller at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, was about two hours into his 8-1/2-hour shift.

The rhythm of his typical work of monitoring aircraft on final approach to the airfield was fractured when a gunnery sergeant approached his work station with news about a crisis: A Marine AV-8B Harrier pilot with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, who had been flying close to the base for practice, had suddenly lost his entire heads-up display.

While such a malfunction would ordinarily be cause for concern, the weather conditions turned the issue into a life-or-death emergency. With heavy rain falling and a dense cloud cover obscuring the ground at a low altitude of 440 feet, the pilot had been relying entirely on aircraft controls as he flew. All of a sudden, the controls were gone and he was lost in the clouds.

"You can barely see three miles ahead of you," McDaniel said. "It's like driving blindfolded; that's the best way I can put it."

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