WTF – Air Traffic Controller Ignores Pilot’s Emergency Declaration

The Washington Post/AP reports via KUSA-TV information, that an air traffic controller at Denver International Airport ignored an emergency call from a United Express flight out of Peoria, Illinois.  Apparently, the plane was already on approach to DIA when the pilots requested firefighter support on the runway, but it was dismissed in the tower as a possible ‘prank’.  The plane landed and indeed, a fire was put out on board.  One person went to the hospital, but there were no deaths or serious injuries. Prank or not, this is ludicrous.  One of the best quotes from the WP article is this one from Sid McGuirk, who teaches traffic management at Embry-Riddle:

They [the ATC] have to assume it’s a real emergency, whether it’s a Cessna or a 747 jumbo jet. If it later turns out to be a spoof, it’s a federal crime.

-Quote from Sid McGuirk via Washington Post


I haven’t listened to the recordings or read transcripts, but I can imagine the communication went something like this:

Ted Striker: Mayday! Mayday!
Steve McCroskey: “Mayday,” what the heck is that?
Johnny: Mayday? Why, that’s the Russian New Year! We can have a big parade and serve hot hors d’oeuvres…
(This transcript available here.)