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EXCLUSIVE: Air Traffic Controllers At PHL Honored For Quick Thinking

By Oren Liebermann, Mike DeNardo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The flight was 16 seconds away from landing on March 1, 2012, when David Giberson noticed something was wrong.

"My gut instinct was to abort the aircraft's landing and to issue a go around," said Giberson.

Giberson did not know it yet, but inside the Philadelphia International Airport Tower, Kenneth Mazik, 24, had crashed through the airport fence and driven onto the runway at 100 miles an hour. It fell on Giberson and a fellow air traffic controller, Corey Grafe, to reroute and hold dozens of flights while the runways were closed.

"Dave kept sending flights around. I stopped my departures," remembered Grafe.

The controls were recently given the Archie League Medal of Safety from the National Air Traffic Controllers' Association for their work that day in keeping planes and passengers safe. In the radio recordings, you do not hear panic. You hear precision.

"Air Wisconsin 4086, everybody on niner left it's gonna be a delay. You guys can shut down if you need to, we got a rogue vehicle driving around on the airport, we're not talking tohim. Hold short runway niner left, we're not moving anybody until we find this guy," you hear Grafe say through the radio.

"The whole tower, at that point, was looking out the window, trying to figure out what was going on. Shortly thereafter, we spotted an SUV coming out of the fog barreling down the runway," Grafe explains.

They gave Eyewitness News and Newsradio 1060 an exclusive interview. It was their first time ever talking to the media.

"I can replay the event -- maybe a minute long -- second by second, all the way through from end to end until they caught him," said Grafe.

In the pressure cooker of a control tower, Grafe and Giberson kept their cool.

A year later, they remain humble about a day they will never forget, and an award they say the whole team deserves.

"There are a lot of people behind the scenes who didn't get accolades for what they did that day," said Giberson.

"It was a great team that day," Grafe said. "It wasn't just me and Dave."

Giberson says there is one person he would like to meet from that day: the pilot of the plane that aborted landing at the last second. He says he would like to thank him for his quick decision making and the part he played one year ago.

Mazik, meanwhile, is serving a 16-month prison sentence for driving onto the runway, and he was ordered to pay $92,000 for the damage he did to the airport.

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