Two planes nearly collide, Tucson air traffic controller honored for quick reflexes

Air traffic controller honored for actions prevented collision on TIA runway

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Air traffic controller Scott Allen begins each work day the same.

He climbs the stairs of the Tucson International Airport tower calm and collected. It’s that same attitude he and his team must keep all shift long as air traffic controllers with Tucson International Airport.

“Our brains have to just automatically know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work,” Allen said.

He said it's all about reflex. They must keep their cool, even when having to think on their feet.

"When we see an aircraft that's moving and they don't look like they're going to stop - they're not going to stop," he said.

These air traffic controllers keep an eye on hundreds of flights coming in and out of Tucson each day, but this particular incident was the closest call they'd seen.

It was the moment when each millisecond mattered as an F-16 nearly collided with a King Air plane.

"He actually touched the runway," Allen said.

In the video, you can see the F-16 pilot touch down briefly before shooting back up into the sky. The King Air plane was in the process of landing on the runway.

It happened on Nov. 9, 2017.

Now more than a year later, inside the tower Allen walked through those intense moments.

"We didn't know how it was going to turn out. I saw a bad situation. I did the best I could. I sent the F-16 around. I told the King Air to stop and he wasn't even on my frequency."

As it was avoided, he heard the words of gratitude come from the pilot. Inside the control room, nothing but cheers.

The same round of applause heard at an award ceremony in Las Vegas.

Allen was recognized for his quick reflexes with one of the highest awards the the National Air Traffic Controllers Association can give. At that ceremony, he met the man at the controls whose life he saved that day.

The F-16 pilot Kurt Tek showed his appreciation by pinning him with a special airplane pin at the event.

"His wife said thank you. His kids said thank you. That was the real thanks," Allen said.

Back in the tower on Thursday, Dec. 20, it’s much quieter as Allen joined the rest of these controllers doing what they love to do.

“We’re presented with unusual situations all the time. Our job isn’t the normal clear to land, clear to land - our job is to deal with the unusual,” he said. “We just want to keep people safe.”

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