Air traffic controllers

From left, Michael Jacobson, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Jeff Aulbach and Neil Cospito attend a brief awards ceremony Thursday recognizing the three air traffic controllers for their help in preventing what could have been a disastrous situation last fall involving an F-16.

NASHUA — Last November, three air traffic controllers acted quickly to get an F-16 facing an emergency situation safely on the ground.

The three men, Jeff Aulbach of Brookline, Neil Cospito of Brookline and Michael Jacobson of Nashua, were recognized Thursday with a Congressional Record Statement presented by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

“It is such an incredible story,” Shaheen said while talking with the air traffic controllers.

On Nov. 20, a F-16 trying to land at its home base in Burlington, Vt., was turned away because of poor weather.

With enough fuel for about 15 minutes of flight, the three air traffic controllers created a plan to divert a flight of KC-135 refueling tankers for a mid-air refueling and secure an alternative landing location. The F-16, flown by Lt. Col. Nate Smith, was able to safely land in Syracuse, N.Y.

“This is totally unusual. It doesn’t really happen,” Cospito said of the emergency mid-air refueling. “It is not something we train for.”

The pilot was running out of fuel and desperately needed to land, according to Cospito, who said he would have been forced to abandon his plane if they didn’t come up with a feasible alternative.

Aulbach was able to make contact with a KC-135 refueling tanker who was nearby on another mission.

“He said emphatically, ‘Yes,’” when asked if he would be willing to assist, Aulbach said.

Jacobson said that without refueling, the F-16 pilot would have had just one critical shot to land the plane. Refueling was a better solution, he said.

“It was tough to stay calm,” Jacobson said.

It took a team effort to prevent what could have been a disastrous outcome, they said.

The three men previously received the prestigious Archie League Medal of Safety Award from the National Air Traffic Controller Association for their efforts.

“Quick thinking and error-free execution from Neil Cospito, Jeff Aulbach and Mike Jacobson saved the F-16 pilot from a number of dangerous alternatives,” says the Congressional Record Statement. “ … As many of us travel across the country throughout the year, we should take a moment to reflect on the significance of air traffic controllers like Neil, Jeff and Mike and thank them for working every minute of every day each year to keep our skies safe.”

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