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Air Traffic Controllers Honored For Saving F-16 Pilot

NASHUA, NH (CBS) - Three air traffic controllers who helped save an F-16 pilot were honored by New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen on Thursday.

Jeff Aulbach, Neil Cospito and Michael Jacobson were on duty at the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center on November 20, 2018, when a normal shift turned dangerous.

"It was not a good day," said Lt. Col. Nate Smith of the Vermont Air National Guard, who was trying to land the F-16 at his base in Burlington, VT. "My fuel state was at a point where I could probably pull it off, but I was going to be in a bind."

ATC Shaheeen
Michael Jacobson, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Jeff Aulbach and Neil Cóspito (WBZ-TV)

In fact, he had only about 15 minutes of fuel left, but unexpected, nasty weather hit, blocking the landing.

Lt. Col. Smith contacted Boston Center in Nashua, NH. Controllers re-directed him to Syracuse, but realized without more fuel, he might not make it. That is when their cool heads prevailed.

"They said 'hey we've got a tanker about 80 miles off your nose, do you want to receive gas?' And I was like, 'yeah!'" Lt. Col Smith recalled.

Nate Smith
Lt. Col. Nate Smith of the VT Air National Guard (WBZ-TV)

The tanker was a KC-135 and they connected for a mid-air refueling.

"The Boston Center crew saved the day with essentially thinking outside the box," Lt. Col. Smith said.

Sen. Shaheen presented the controllers with a Congressional Record Statement to recognize their heroics.

"This is what we're trained to do," said Neil Cospito. "We don't do it for recognition. We do it because we want to help and we want to keep people safe."

"There was a lot of luck involved," Michael Jacobson said. "What are the chances that we had a tanker just hanging out there?"

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