RENO -- An air traffic controller taken ill while on duty in Reno sparked a volley of words Wednesday between the controller's union and the Federal Aviation Administration, with each accusing the other of using the incident for political gains.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, in a press release issued late Tuesday, said the veteran controller had been forced to work alone in the radar room at Reno-Tahoe International Airport when he suffered a heart attack late Monday afternoon.
Ian Gregor, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Los Angeles, on Wednesday said the controller suffered a severe bout of heartburn, not a heart attack.
"It's unfortunate that the controller union's leadership didn't bother to check their facts and then used this gentleman's medical misfortune to try to further their political goals," Gregor said.
When told of the FAA's comments, Rich Ferris, the association's Reno representative, responded:
"They haul a guy out of here in an ambulance and it's heartburn?" Ferris said
Regardless of his ailment, Ferris said the incident underscores staffing shortages at the airport tower.
"They're playing a game," he said of the FAA. "The airport firefighters responded. He said he was having chest pains. They treated him as a heart attack victim. He went to the emergency room."
"What struck this individual, it doesn't matter," Ferris said.
Airport spokesman Brian Kulpin said there was no disruption of service and safety was maintained during the incident.