Vegas Tower Controller Incapacitated


The FAA has increased controller staffing at Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport tower after the only controller on duty late Wednesday apparently became incapacitated at her position. Confused pilots on the ground stopped where they were for about eight minutes and talked among themselves about the issues in the tower before a second controller returned from a break and took over. There were reportedly five inbound aircraft and several maneuvering on the ground when the issues occurred but there were no incidents. The FAA says it will require two controllers to be on duty in the tower when traffic dictates. “The FAA is deeply concerned by the incident, is thoroughly investigating what occurred, and is taking immediate steps to modify its overnight shift staffing policies,” the agency said in a statement.

Tower tapes from indicate the controller’s performance started to degrade at about 11:09 p.m. local time when she started coughing and slurring words. By about 11:30 p.m. she was mixing up call signs and taxi instructions and pilots were requesting repeated clarification of instructions. Her transmissions grew progressively more confused and broken and at one point a pilot wonders “is there somebody up there that knows what they’re doing.” Other pilots start querying if there are any other controllers in the cab. Another tells traffic on the tower frequency that “something’s wrong.” The controller then says she’s “choking a little bit” and fails to respond to several calls, including one from an aircraft on a visual approach to the airport. The controller keys her mic briefly while coughing and grunting finally goes silent at about 11:47 until the second controller returns a few minutes later and informs all the traffic that he’s taking over. The first controller is on administrative leave pending an investigation.