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Air Traffic Controller Sleeps on the Job

May 7, 1993

MIAMI (AP) _ The lone air traffic controller at the Palm Beach Airport kicked off his shoes and fell asleep in the tower while apparently cleaning his pistol, forcing a jetliner to land without guidance, authorities say.

The pilot of the Delta Air Lines flight from Sacramento, Calif., circled the airport, unable to communicate with the tower, before safely putting the plane down with more than 40 people aboard April 29.

Fearing the controller was ill, sheriff’s deputies obtained the access codes to the electronic lock on the tower door and entered about 1:40 a.m., to find a shoeless Rodney Tatum apparently just waking up, Sgt. Bruce Barkdoll said.

″Rodney Tatum said that he had fallen asleep,″ Barkdoll wrote.

Barkdoll said a gun and ammunition were on the table, and a nearby kit indicated Tatum may have been cleaning the pistol.

It is against regulations to have a weapon in the tower, Federal Aviation Administration regional spokeswoman Anne Eldridge said Thursday.

No immediate charges were filed. Eldridge said the incident was under investigation.

The 36-year-old controller remains on the job but was moved to the day shift and won’t work alone pending the outcome of the investigation, Eldridge said

Deputies said there was no indication Tatum was drunk or on drugs.

Reached at home Thursday, Tatum said the incident has been ″blown out of proportion.″ He said his bosses advised him not to comment.

Three private planes also were unable to contact the tower during a 39- minute span, Eldridge said.

The Delta pilot notified the Miami and Fort Lauderdale towers, which contacted Palm Beach authorities. Deputies surrounded the tower in squad cars, turning on their blue lights and focusing spotlights on its windows.

Eldridge said several attempts were also made to reach the controller by telephone, but she wouldn’t say exactly what happened.

Tatum’s home number is unlisted.

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