- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 3, 2012

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (AP) — An elderly woman took control of a small plane, dangerously low on fuel, from her unconscious husband and landed it on a runway at a small northeastern Wisconsin airport, the facility’s director said Tuesday.

Helen Collins, 80, had some flight training years ago but was not familiar with the controls of the Cessna twin-engine plane on Monday evening when her husband passed out, said Keith Kasbohm, director of Cherryland Airport near Sturgeon Bay.

Another pilot took to the skies to guide Mrs. Collins to the ground, but she had to land the aircraft herself.

“She was on her last attempt to get lined up with the runway,” Mr. Kasbohm said. “She reported one engine was sputtering on that last attempt to land. We were all watching and knew she had to do it.”


Mrs. Collins‘ 81-year-old husband, John, later was pronounced dead at a hospital.

A call to 911 from Mrs. Collins in the Cessna prompted air traffic controllers in Green Bay to alert Mr. Kasbohm.

“The first thing I thought of is, ‘We have to find someone to help talk this woman down,’” he said.

Mr. Kasbohm called Robert Vuksanovic, a pilot who lives just a mile from the airport. Mr. Vuksanovic jumped in another plane owned by the Collinses and flew up to meet the Cessna while instructing the novice on the radio.

“He felt it would be easier,” Mr. Kasbohm said. “With him alongside of her, he could control her speed and altitude” before she attempted a landing.

Mr. Kasbohm described Mrs. Collins as “cool, calm and collected on the radio” as the aircraft made a hard landing and skidded about 1,000 feet before coming to rest.

“She must have flown around here about 10 times,” said Torry Lautenbach, whose property is next to the airport. “She did a really good job (landing the plane). It was amazing,” Mr. Lautenbach said. “It took one bad hop and then it came back down and skidded.”

The Collinses, of Sturgeon Bay, own a small manufacturing company in Door County, authorities said. Mr. Collins founded C&S Manufacturing in 1962, according to the company’s website.