Release #05.027
August 18, 2005

Airline Pilots in the Spotlight: ALPA Presents Safety Awards at Its Annual Air Safety Forum

WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The Air Line Pilots Association Int’l. (ALPA) today bestowed its highest honors on three pilots in recognition of their contributions to safety, and on two cockpit crews who exhibited superior airmanship when confronted with potentially disastrous developments in the air.

The awards were presented by ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, at the Association’s annual Air Safety Forum in Washington, D.C.

Capt. Robert Sumwalt, a retired US Airways pilot, received ALPA’s top honor, the Air Safety Award. This is bestowed each year on a pilot who has made significant contributions to safety through volunteer service in the Association’s air safety structure. Capt. Sumwalt most recently served as chairman of ALPA’s Human Factors and Training Group. His previous ALPA work, spanning 18 years, includes helping to found ALPA’s Critical Incident Response Program and its Training Council, and a variety of accomplishments in areas such as runway incursions, cockpit procedures, wind shear, and safety research and monitoring. In the course of his activities, he represented ALPA’s views to organizations such as the FAA, NTSB, aircraft manufacturers, and the Flight Safety Foundation. A trained accident investigator, he also served as a member of the Association’s Accident Investigation Board.

Capt. Ted Demosthenes, a retired Delta Airlines pilot, received a Presidential Citation in recognition of more than 18 years of ALPA safety activities. Capt. Demosthenes has chaired ALPA’s All Weather Flying Committee and its Aircraft Design and Operations Group. One of his most notable achievements was his instrumental role as a member of the FAA’s Performance-Based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee. He also represented ALPA interests on numerous committees and working groups at FAA, the International Association of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA), and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

A Presidential Citation also was awarded to Capt. Simon Lawrence, a retired US Airways pilot with extensive contributions to ALPA safety work. Capt. Lawrence headed ALPA’s Charting and Instrument Procedures Committee, and most recently served as director of its Human Factors Programs. He also represented ALPA to various government and industry bodies dealing with synthetic vision, Required Navigation Performance (RNP), and various issues relating to air traffic services and to navigation charting and procedures.

A Superior Airmanship Award went to an American Eagle crew, Capt. Barry Gottshall and First Officer Wesley Greene. On a January 19, 2004 flight from Bangor, Maine to Boston, immediately after takeoff, the rudder controls of their Embraer 135 aircraft jammed, causing an uncontrolled yaw and roll to the right. As the crew struggled to maintain level flight in the severely cross-controlled jet, they declared an emergency and began a return to the Bangor airport. Deteriorating visibility meant that they had to keep to the narrow path projected by the ILS (Instrument Landing System), a difficult task when holding the aircraft in 15-20 degrees of bank just to maintain course. The crew completed a successful landing, after which full rudder control was mysteriously restored. Inspection revealed that both aft rudder control rods were broken. The reason for the rod breakage is still under investigation.

The second Superior Airmanship Award went to Capt. Brian Witcher and First Officers Donald Arlotta and Ross Windom, a United Airlines B-767 crew that encountered massive electrical failures on an April 13, 2004 flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Miami. At about 11:10 p.m., while cruising 31,000 feet over the jungles of southern Colombia, the crew was jolted by the autopilot warning horn, an uncommanded switchover to standby lighting, and a blank first officer’s display screen. As the crew struggled to diagnose the problem, and with the Andes Mountains lurking somewhere out in the dark, the situation deteriorated dramatically. Soon, the captain’s instruments began to fail, and all their radios failed before they were able to contact Bogota air traffic control. Efforts to restore power and radio contact produced only limited, intermittent results. Running only on battery power and still 200 miles from the Bogota airport, options were running out. The crew reduced electrical consumption to an absolute minimum, even eliminating the outside warning lights. Miraculously, they were able to nurse 41 minutes of power from a battery certified only to last for 30 minutes, and landed safely. Investigation later revealed that corrosion on a bracket had short-circuited the electrical system.

ALPA represents 64,000 airline pilots at 41 carriers in the U.S. and Canada. Its motto, “Schedule with Safety,” reflects the union’s deep commitment to provide the maximum level of safety to airline operations. Its web site is

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ALPA CONTACTS: John Mazor, Linda Shotwell, (703) 481-4440,