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80-year-old woman lands plane for dying pilot — her husband

By Dalina Castellanos, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Flight conditions were ideal as the Cessna twin-engine plane flew through the clouds above Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

There was a very mild breeze, sunshine and clear skies, but inside the cockpit was another story, authorities said.

The small plane’s pilot, 81-year-old John Collins, had fallen unconscious, leaving his wife, Helen Collins, 80, to take the controls Monday evening, Door County Sheriff Terry Vogel told the Los Angeles Times.

At 5 p.m. authorities were dispatched to clear the streets as she prepared to land, Vogel said. Collins had received some flight training but is not a licensed pilot and was unfamiliar with the Cessna.

Robert Vuksanovic and his wife, Catherine, both licensed pilots, were called in to help the elderly woman to safety, Robert taking to the skies to shadow Collins’ flight and Catherine communicating with Collins from the ground via radio, helping her manipulate the controls. The plane Robert flew, a Beechcraft Bonanza, was also owned by John Collins.

An hour after her initial radio call, Helen Collins touched the plane down roughly at Cherryland Airport. The plane bounced once and then hit the ground nose first, skidding into a grassy area and coming to rest on its nose, according to the sheriff’s report.

Though the Vuksanovics were helpful, Vogel credited Helen Collins with being able to keep her wits about her as she piloted the plane with her ailing husband at her side.

Upon landing, Helen Collins complained of back pain, while John Collins was still unresponsive. Her heroics were not enough to save him. He was pronounced dead at 6:38 p.m.

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