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McCarran air traffic controller becomes 'incapacitated' while on duty

Posted: 3:50 PM, Nov 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-10 07:47:01Z

An air traffic controller became "incapacitated" while on duty at McCarran International Airport late Wednesday evening.

The FAA released a statement about the incident.

"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. No safety events occurred during this incident. The controller is being placed on administrative leave and restricted from working air traffic."

Officials did not specify how the employee became incapacitated but that the air traffic controller was eventually unresponsive. 

The FAA did say the controller's performance was normal when her shift began at 10:06 p.m. and then her performance began to degrade at 11:09 p.m. and became impaired at 11:24 p.m. The controller appeared unresponsive at 11:47 p.m. The other controller on duty returned from a break at 11:50 p.m. and began handling air traffic at 11:54 p.m. 

The FAA noted that breaks were allowed under current policy but after Wednesday's incident, the FAA is making changes to its overnight shift staffing policies. 

"The FAA will require two controllers to be in the tower cab working traffic until a certain time based on shift periods and traffic levels. The policy will take effect today."

While the FAA reports no safety incidents occurred, some pilots opted not to depart due to the issue. 

Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County Director of Aviation, released a statement Friday afternoon.

"Safety is always the top priority in aviation. McCarran International Airport personnel became aware of an incident involving an air traffic controller late Wednesday evening and immediately responded, making contact with the FAA at multiple levels to assist in its resolution."

Congresswoman Dina Titus also released a statement about the incident. She is a member of the House Subcommittee on Aviation. 

13 Action News spoke with John Nance regarding this incident.  Nance is the aviation analyst for ABC World News.

"We have known for a long time that in any major airport, whatever it is day or night, we need a minimum of two people up there," said Nance.

While safety was decreased for a period of time, Nance said there was no real threat to passengers.

"We have a partnership with controllers that is really very strong," said Nance, "we'll substitute whatever is necessary for each other including finding out who is on approach, who is where, if a controller isn't answering."

“I’ve been briefed on the incident that occurred at the air traffic control tower at McCarran and am awaiting further details, but I find the initial reports deeply disturbing. The safety of travelers is of paramount concern and I will work with the FAA and McCarran as this investigation continues to unfold.”