Police: Air traffic controller was sleeping while pilots' calls went unanswered

New details about the incident from police report.

BOISE, Idaho -- The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating why pilots trying to land at the Boise Airport were met with silence from air traffic controllers during the early hours of Nov. 19.

Boise Police officers and paramedics were called out to the air traffic control tower at 2:41 a.m. for a welfare check after learning that pilots and airport officials had been unable to reach the tower operators, despite trying multiple radio frequencies, telephone and the emergency "red phone."

The first officers on scene wrote in a report that after reaching a locked gate, they used a spotlight to flash the tower and turned on their sirens and air horn in order to alert the people inside, but got no response.

Eventually, another air traffic control tower employee pulled into the airport and let the officers through. After the officers explained why they were there, the employee - whose name has been redacted from the reports - told officers that he had spoken to the person in the tower and he was fine.

Police say once they got inside the tower, the employee told them he would meet them at the elevator, then went into the breakroom to get a mini pizza. The officers say the tower employee did not seem to think the situation was serious.

"The man kept saying it was no problem and everything was ok, and this wasn't a big deal," Cpl. Mike Algate wrote in his report.

Bruce Gard, the airport operations officer who had alerted police to the lack of response from the tower, told police that the employee was supposed to be the second man in the tower, and was not supposed to leave.

Once inside the elevator, several of the officers noticed an odor of marijuana coming from the employee. Officer Andrew Morlock wrote in a report that his "demeanor appeared to be slow and confused as to what was going on."

As officers got to the control room, the employee called out to another traffic controller, telling him the police were there.

Police say the man in the tower appeared to have just woken up, and told them he had not heard any radio traffic.

"The individual in the tower seemed very groggy and sluggish, what I would describe as dazed and confused," Ofc. Shane Langton wrote.

The employee admitted he had fallen asleep while he was supposed to be monitoring air traffic, police say.

"We spoke with [the employees] both of them appeared to be unconcerned about the situation and the severity of not being able to contact with the Air Traffic Control Tower," Officer Byron Grover wrote in his report. "Airport Operations Bruce Gard informed [employee] that there were two Life Flight helicopters requesting permission to land and could not get a response from the tower. Again [redacted] did not appear to be too concerned about the situation while we were speaking with him and stood and smiled."

The tower employees told police that there was typically only one person in the control room between midnight and 3 a.m.

The officers say as they were leaving the tower, they again smelled marijuana on the first floor, but did not find any drugs during a brief search of the area. Gard also told officers that the tower "was calling out wrong runways and directions" to pilots trying to and at the airport.

Boise Airport spokesman Sean Briggs told KTVB on Friday that the Boise Airport has no authority over the air traffic control tower. Briggs says the men involved are not Boise Airport employees - they are Federal Aviation Administration employees. 

It's unclear whether the two tower employees involved in the incident remain employed.

Neither has been charged with a crime, according to Boise Police.

The FAA is conducting an administrative investigation.

“Both controllers were drug tested and both tests were negative," an FAA spokesman told KTVB. "The FAA is continuing to investigate the incident.”

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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