The 4th Operations Support Squadron Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) Airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, ensured a safe landing for a civilian aviator, Ross Rivkin, at Duplin County Airport in Kenansville, North Carolina, ultimately saving his life on Dec. 17, 2021.
The day started as any other day until an unexpected call came. Tech. Sgt. Justine King, 4th OSS RAPCON senior watch supervisor, and her crew just received from Rivkin’s aircraft requesting assistance approximately 10 miles south of Kenansville.
“He called requesting permission to land immediately and a nervous ‘help’ was heard through the intercom as he described losing his engine,” said King. “The fuel was getting sucked out of his single-engine airplane, so when the fuel was gone, the engine cut out. He had no indication he was going to lose his engine until it happened; it became an emergency situation.”
Immediately, the available controllers started looking for a safe place for the aircraft to land that included checking the weather, managing other aircraft and looking for open runways at nearby airport. Luckily, Duplin County Airport met the necessary requirements.
“My position that day was to listen in to all frequencies,” said King. “I called the airport manager at Duplin and made sure they cleared the airport, and did not let anyone get on the runway.”
Staff Sgt. Bryce Torsella, 4th OSS RAPCON watch supervisor, communicated directly with Rivkin.
“I tried to put Rivkin at ease by letting him know we were keeping the airport clear of air traffic so that he could focus on what he needed to do,” said Torsella.
Poor weather that day added to the complexity of landing the aircraft safely in a limited amount of time.
“He was following visual flight rules, which means he’s supposed to stay clear of clouds,” said Torsella. “We guided him, ensuring no aircraft were near him”.
Rivkin was 100 feet off the ground with thick clouds making it very dangerous for him to fly and land.
“It’s like taking a blanket and putting it over your head,” said King. “He flew about a half-mile to a mile before he approached the runway. He had lost power to the engine completely but was able to glide in and make a safe landing.”
Rivkin landed safely due to the efforts and communication completed by the RAPCON Airmen.
“The room was tense; we were all hoping he would make a safe landing,” recalled Torsella. “We had seven controllers in the room that day to make sure everything was going safely.”
Torsella said as controllers they have trained on scenarios similar to the situation they faced on Dec. 17 but never knew how he would react when in the actual situation. Fortunately, everyone remained calm and were able to assist Rivkin in his hour of need.
For the team, it was an unforgettable experience and for leadership, they couldn’t be more proud of their team.
“The Airmen of the 4th Fighter Wing constantly prepare for combat, but it is a rare moment that our Airmen are tested under the strain of life and death consequences here at home station,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Barber, 4th OSS commander. “Mr. Rivkin was able to land safely due to their skill, teamwork and composure under pressure. I am incredibly proud of them.”
By Airman 1st Class Sabrina Fuller
4th Fighter Wing