AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Air-traffic controllers' quick thinking helped guide a small plane through severe weather and allowed the pilot to safely land at Austin's international airport on Sunday, aviation officials said.
The pilot, Matt Cartwright, set out from New Orleans in the morning. But with much of Texas hit by thunderstorms and heavy winds, he realized he couldn't see the runway as he approached Lakeway Airpark near Austin.
Cartwright did not have an instrument rating, meaning he was not certified to fly into an airport during bad weather or low visibility, FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said.
Underneath him was cloud cover that could have been dangerous for an untrained pilot. And his Piper PA-28 plane did not have enough fuel to try airports in San Antonio or Houston, Cartwright and Lunsford said.
So controllers decided to talk him through a landing at nearby Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
As other arrivals at Bergstrom were held in the air for up to 30 minutes, controllers Matt Sheffield and Kristen Lewandowski had Cartwright descend from about 3,500 feet and through the clouds, said Brian Potter, approach control operations supervisor at Bergstrom.
The controllers directed Cartwright through small turns as he descended toward the runway. He emerged from the clouds at just 300 feet above the runway, set up for a successful landing, Potter said.
"When you descend a pilot like that down into the clouds, we don't know what's going to happen," Potter said Sunday night. "The controllers did a great job keeping him calm and turning very slowly, and constantly reminding him to check his instruments."
Cartwright, who was returning home from a business trip, said he wasn't worried about his safety thanks to the controllers' directions.
"They just said, 'Do this, do this, do this,' and all I had to do was follow instructions," he said.