Back to Squawk list
  • 48

Las Vegas airport controller heard slurring her words as alarmed pilots respond

LAS VEGAS -- Federal and airport authorities are investigating why an air traffic controller became incapacitated and went silent while working a night shift alone in the tower at busy McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave reports that in air traffic audio of the incident, the controller appeared to become incoherent and eventually unresponsive until she was discovered by another controller returning from a break. ( More...

Sort type: [Top] [Newest]

that was rather odd, and rather scary. I hope that controller's ok, and grateful all the pilots who were on the air during this incident held their cool, not knowing what the HELL was going on in the tower, for nearly 20 minutes.
Zak cook 8
according to some people on twitter, she had a stroke. i don't know if that's true but once the FBI releases their report it will probably tell what happened.
David Bristol 6
Listening to the audio it sounded like a stroke in progress more than someone drunk.
KatzyBaby 1
I was thinking an epileptic seizure. That's what it sounded like to me from the sounds over the mic. But the bottom line is no major airport should have only one controller on if there are any planes landing or leaving no matter what time it is. Good work by the pilots in following flashing yellow light rules.
An ‘uncontrolled’ airport is a pilot controlled airport. Hard to make that call when you know there is a controller on duty. I thought that Alaska 608 should have declared a missed approached because I never heard valid landing clearance. We used to joke when getting our controller 2nd class physicals, that they would just shove us out of the way if we went down. This is a good reminder those physicals (akin to what an airline transport pilot receives) were there for a reason.
mike boden 4
Looks like she is no longer with the FAA.
Tony E 4
If she had had a stroke she would be on sick leave not administrative leave and by the sound of it the cause may have been over self-medicating a prescription drug. Grounds for immediate dismissal.
In all honesty, if you had a stroke, you wouldn't be in any mental capacity to be able to return and handle traffic at one of the busiest Class B airports in the country. Strokes are that debilitating that it would be grounds for dismissal from such a position.
Ken McIntyre 2
Dismissal seams pretty severe for an accidental medical condition, imo. Reassignment or medical retirement (if qualified) sounds much more appropriate.
Ken McIntyre 1
Unless, it was as Tony F said.
randy everett 0
Zanax is my medically educated guess.
paul trubits 1
It is spelled Xanax. And you are probably wrong about your medically educated guess, too.
randy everett 1
Doubt it, but we'll see down the road.
Wow, that went on for over 20 minutes. Sounds like she was working ramp, ground, and local. At a place like KLAS, there needs to be at least two people in the cab all the time.
KLAS is a different beast altogether. They have a separate Ramp controller/tower that handles the ramp/ATC non-movement area, that is a non-FAA position. At the time of this incident, Ramp was open. They are normally open until 1am local time.

However, Clearance, Ground, and Tower had all combined on Tower's frequency, so she was handling it all, while her co-worker was taking a break. Supervisor was on duty as well. So when this happened, there were enough people to staff the tower, but one was on break while the SUP was available.

Again, this wasn't as if she was intoxicated, as some other reports had stated. From the way she was sounding, it was close to being more of shortness of breath possibly coming from an embolism or a stroke. Seeing that other have indicated that that could be the main cause, we hope she's okay.

Regardless, the FAA has now mandated that no frequencies combine until 12 midnight local time. Obviously, there will be waivers applied for that.
patrick baker 6
no excuse for managment here concerning staffing: how many billions are in the trust funds from airline tickets? good idea to raid that and hire and staff and supervise one of the more necessary components of airline flight in north america.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Ken McIntyre 9
Get off the Reagan thing. That ship has sailed.
George Cottay 5
I'm amazed to read that the FAA just mandated at least two controllers be present in this busy tower.
They always have had 2 controllers present at KLAS. They split tower functions between the 8/26s and 1/19s. It just happen to be that because of how light traffic is at night, they combine operations and frequencies.

What the FAA mandated was that all controllers can not combine frequencies until certain time shifts are met and traffic levels. Right now, they've set that time to be 12 midnight. That's across the board, not just at KLAS, unless the tower closes before that time.
Shenghao Han 2
You can here she started to slip, unknowing what was happening
mike boden 4
If you research, you will find Jimmy made that decision, Reagan just carried it out.
Ken McIntyre 2
And if he'd done a little more research, he'd have found that Federal employees are NOT allowed to strike. Going out on strike is grounds for instant dismissal. Reagan and Carter were well withing their rights to fire the controllers. Whether or not it was the right thing to do has been up for discussion for years.
Pa Thomas 1
The controllers formed NATCA less than two years later. FAA management was entirely to blame for the strike. And the several billions it cost you in the budget.
Ken McIntyre 0
Yawn. What's a few billion to a politician?
Tom Bruce 3
we had one controller in tower 11 PM to 7 AM but no scheduled flights... can't believe LAS allows one person.. and, I got fired by Reagan in 1981... only thing he could do.. if he'd allowed us to win the postal union and treasury union was ready to go next... airlines backed up Reagan..they were glad to get rid of PATCO
Ken McIntyre 2
Very interesting about the other unions. Thanks for the history lesson.
sharon bias 3
One controller from 11 to 7 because of no scheduled flights? Anyone heard of bad weather? Some of the airlines on-time records are horrible. No scheduled flights doesn't mean no one is landing.
Roger Curtiss 2
Duh...which is why there was 1 controller on duty.
Thom Besch 2
The news reports that she resigned from the FAA. Unfortunately that points towards personal misconduct. If she had a medical emergency, like a stroke, she would remain a federal employee in order to receive for medical benefits. No one would leave abandon their coverage if they have a serious medical issues.
ravenshammer 1
Slurring, transposing alphanumerics, choking...sounds like a stroke to me. Wondering why she was alone in such a busy airport?
Highflyer1950 1
Interesting that the aircraft on the ground after getting no real intelligible response from the controller in the tower neglected to advise the aircraft on final to contact arrival and have them hot line the tower. That may have gotten help to her much faster?
Wouldn't have mattered. on short final like they were, even on a 5 mile final, FNL would have to get in touch with LCL, figure out what's going on, and get back. Approach already handed off the aircraft to LCL, so there was nothing that FNL could have done.

Without Landing clearance, all that the arrivals could do is go around, get hold of the controller on their last frequency, and figure it out later. Trying to figure out this problem while on final would bring into question the pilot's role as PIC.

Now, those on the ground... unless they had clear instructions that they could understand (which they couldn't), optimally they should have held their current positions (like one of the pilots did; I have the entire clip downloaded from LiveATC) until they sorted everything out.
Highflyer1950 1
I think you may have misundestood my point. By having the aircraft on final contact arrival and notify them of a communication issue which would have caused a query by the arrival contoller via hot line to the tower cab and when there was no reponse a request for immediate assistance to the tower would have been made. It takes 15 seconds and we all have two or three radios!
It wouldn't have prevented a go-around to be initiated by the pilot, let alone landing clearance given by the final controller. On top of that, it wouldn't be determined at that point if there was a serious issue to warrant a frequency change back to the approach controller, find an open space for them, key the mic, and do everything you're suggesting before being on short final, let alone over the threshold. She was doing fine earlier that night until this happened.

Now, hindsight being 2020, the moment anyone heard any slurring, they should have held their positions (with the exception of those on final), and either called their company on their company freqs to get hold of tower, or grab a landline phone and call the tower themselves. Hearing slurring like that especially since there wasn't any kind of drunken undertone to it (you can definitely tell the difference between medical versus alcoholic), is not only dangerous for the pilots and people involved in the aircraft, but for the controller as well.
Identity and cause kept under tighter wraps than Obama's university transcript.
Paul Thompson -9
Spoken like a real Trumplican !!
Ken McIntyre -2
Or Trump's tax returns. You feel better now?


Don't have an account? Register now (free) for customized features, flight alerts, and more!
Did you know that FlightAware flight tracking is supported by advertising?
You can help us keep FlightAware free by allowing ads from We work hard to keep our advertising relevant and unobtrusive to create a great experience. It's quick and easy to whitelist ads on FlightAware or please consider our premium accounts.