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A Belated Thanks for Saving a Father's Life

Last month on Morning Edition, air-traffic controller Dave Murphy recounted an emergency call that he had handled from a control tower in Illinois. A pilot had radioed in to say his plane was stuck in a nosedive. Murphy was able to guide that pilot to the ground safely.

Murphy's story brought many responses from listeners — including this one from Nancy Colon of Richmond, Va.: "Your story made me wish I could contact the air-traffic controller who saved my dad's life."

Colon shared this story about her father, Russell Pankey:

On Nov. 26, 1975, my dad was flying home. His plane was ordered into a steep nosedive that created chaos inside the cabin and injured many people. My dad's plane and another plane had been heading directly into each other at 35,000 feet. I came across a Time magazine article that told of the heroic effort of an air-traffic controller named Charles Hewitt, who saved my dad and 307 other people. I wish I could find Charles Hewitt and thank him for my dad's precious life.

It took a month, but NPR tracked down Hewitt — and gave Colon her wish.

"My dad is 82 now, and he's got four grandchildren, and we've had so many years together. And all of that would have been missed," Colon told Hewitt as she thanked him. "My sister and I were 7 and 8 at the time, and we would have really missed him."

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