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Woman, 80, lands plane on low fuel; husband dies

An 80-year-old woman with little flying experience knew her husband had died after he fell unconscious at the controls of a small plane, yet she remained calm as she landed the aircraft at a northeastern Wisconsin airport, her son said Tuesday.

In a phone interview with The Associated Press, James Collins said he’s also a pilot and he helped his mother Helen Collins via radio as the Cessna twin-engine plane began running out of gas Monday evening. Another pilot also took to the skies to guide her to the ground at Cherryland Airport, near Sturgeon Bay _ about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Milwaukee.

He said his mother took lessons to take off and land about 30 years ago at her husband’s urging, in case something happened to him, but never got her license. She has flown hundreds of hours by his side.

“At one point she didn’t even want the wingman to go up,” he said. “She said, `Don’t you guys think I could do this on my own? Don’t you have confidence in me?’ She was calmer than everybody on the ground. She had it totally under control.”

They were coming back from their second home in Marco Island, Florida, for Easter, Collins said. His 81-year-old father, John Collins, had a heart attack about seven minutes from landing at Cherryland Airport and had called her to the cockpit before he became unconscious, Collins said. She had called police dispatchers, and that’s when everyone came together to help her down.

The pilot who helped was Robert Vuksanovic, who lived just a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the airport, said Keith Kasbohm, director of Cherryland Airport. After getting the call from Kasbohm, Vuksanovic jumped in another plane owned by the Collins family and flew up to meet the Cessna while instructing the novice on the radio.

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

Collins said his mother knew her husband had died after she unsuccessfully tried to get him back into his seatbelt, which he unbuckled before he collapsed.

He said one engine had completely run out of gas and the other had to be close to running out because it was sputtering. He said the nose-wheel collapsed upon landing and she skidded down the runway about 1,000 feet (305 meters). But she worked the rudders to keep the plane straight, he said.

“The amazing thing is she landed that plane on one engine,” she said. “I don’t know if are a lot of trained pilots that could do that.”

At a news conference Tuesday, Vuksanovic said he also experienced Helen Collins’ confidence, WLUK-TV reported.

“She wanted to know if I was confident in her confidence,” he said. “I said if you’re confident then I’m confident, I think we can do this.”

Collins said his mother was hospitalized on Tuesday with an injury to her vertebrae and a cracked rib but was doing well.

He said he stayed calm and focused because he had to help her.

“I already knew I lost my dad, I didn’t want to lose my mom,” he said. “It could have been both of them at once.”

He described his mother’s actions as unbelievable, answering their questions about air speed or the flaps. “You think she had done it all her life.”

“Everybody is proud of her,” he said. “I think she is a local hero for sure.” (AP)




<관련 한글 기사>


80세 할머니, 숨진 남편 대신 비상착륙 성공


조종사 자격증도 없는 80세 할머니가 경비행기 조종 중 심장마비에 걸린 남편을 대신하여 비상 착륙에 성공해 화제가 되고 있다.

지난 월요일 헬렌 콜린스 할머니(80)는 남편 존 콜린스(81) 씨와 함께 부활절 방학기간을 맞아 고향으로 돌아가는 중이었던 것으로 알려졌다.

공항에 도착하기 약 7분 전 남편 콜린스 씨는 심장마비에 걸렸으며 그는 부인을 조종석으로 부른 후 의식을 잃었다.

헬렌 콜린스 할머니는 경찰에게 도움을 요청하여 라디오를 통해 그녀의 아들인 제임스 콜린스 조종사의 지시에 따라 비상착륙을 해냈다.

제임스 콜린스 씨는 “비행 도중 연료가 떨어지고 한쪽 엔진마저 멈춘 상태에서 착륙을 성공했다는 것이 놀랍다”며 “숙달된 비행기 조종사들도 하기 어렵다”고 말했다.

언론과 네티즌들은 의식 잃은 남편이 숨졌다는 사실을 알고도 침착하게 상황에 대처한 할머니의 용기에 찬사를 보냈다.

헬렌 콜린스 할머니는 30년 전에 만일의 사태에 대비하여 남편으로부터 종종 비행기 이륙 및 착륙 연습을 했다고 한다.

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