Woman Lands Twin-Engine Aircraft
When Husband-Pilot Stricken
A Cessna 414A rests on the runway at Sturgeon Bay after an 80-year-old woman, who isn't a pilot, was forced to land it when her husband became incapacitated in the left seat.
The hard landing caused the 414ís nose gear to collapse, but Helen Collins survived with minor injuries. Sadly, her husband, John, was pronounced dead at a local medical center.
Listen to the in-flight audio recording between EAA member Bob Vuksanovic and Helen Collins (43MB)
April 3, 2012 - A woman with very limited flying experience landed a twin-engine Cessna Monday when her pilot-in-command husband became incapacitated during an afternoon flight near Wisconsin's Door County Cherryland Airport (KSUE). According to the Door County sheriff's report, John Collins, 81, and his wife, Helen, 80, of Sturgeon Bay, were on a return flight from Florida in their 1980 Cessna 414A when John suffered a medical problem and became unresponsive less than 10 miles south of Sturgeon Bay.
Helen contacted authorities on the ground via cellphone to inform them of the situation. Two pilots - Bob and Catherine Vuksanovic of Sturgeon Bay and members of EAA Chapter 630 Ė were quickly summoned to the airport to help Helen land the plane. Bob, who was familiar with the 414A, took off in a second plane and helped guide Helen to a safe, albeit rough, landing on KSUE Runway 2/20. Both occupants were taken to the Door County Medical Center, where John was pronounced dead. Helen suffered minor injuries from the hard landing.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Catherine said Helen didnít sound fearful despite the circumstances. "She was just an amazing person," she said. "She wanted to make sure we were on board doing this." And her children on the ground were urging them to "Go up and save Mom."
"She did a great job," Bob Vuksanovic said. "She knew you have to keep the nose up. That was enough to keep her alive. This was more than a successful landing."
According to the report, the Door County sheriff's office received a phone call from Austin Straubel International Airport ATC in Green Bay about an aircraft in distress flying near Sturgeon Bay. A woman in the plane was reporting that her husband, the pilot, was unresponsive after having some sort of a medical emergency and that she was now flying the aircraft, but she was not a pilot. Radar indicated the aircraft was 5 to 6 miles south of Sturgeon Bay at 2,300 feet altitude.
ATC contacted KSUE Manager Keith Kasbohm, who was en route to the airport, asking if he knew of any pilots who could be summoned to help communicate with Helen and help her land the plane. Kasbohm replied that two pilots, husband and wife Robert (EAA 135971) and Catherine Vuksanovic of Sturgeon Bay, were in fact already en route to the airport. (Catherine is also an FAA Part 135 ride inspector.)
By 5:20 p.m., the report states that the Vuksanovics were at the airport in contact with Helen when it was decided that Bob would get into another plane and shadow the distressed Cessna while Catherine would communicate from the ground. Bob took off in a Beech Bonanza (also owned by John Collins), positioned the airplane just off the 414's wing, and was in radio communications with Helen.
The two aircraft did several fly by-type maneuvers as practice runs according to the report, and at about 6:09 p.m. Helen touched down on Runway 2/20. It bounced once, then came down nose first, skidding across a grassy area and coming to rest on its nose facing northeast. Several media outlets reported that the 414A ran out of fuel in its right engine, but that was not mentioned in the sheriff's report.
The plane and occupants were immediately attended to by the Southern Door Fire Department and EMS, then taken to the Ministry Door County Medical Center, where John was pronounced dead. Helen complained of back pain.
Sons Richard and James Collins told authorities that their parents were returning to Wisconsin from Marco Island, Florida, and that John Collins had indicated he did not feel well last Thursday, the report states. James, also a pilot, said he offered to meet his parents at their Rome, Georgia, fuel stop and fly them back to Wisconsin in the 414A since his dad was not feeling well. John declined the offer, according to the report, and the couple departed Florida at 9 a.m. local time on Monday. After their fuel stop in Rome, they were on a direct flight back to Door County.
James Collins told the AP that his mother learned to take off and land about 30 years ago at his father's urging - in case something happened to him. She has flown hundreds of hours by his side, he said.
Door County Medical Examiner Marion Moreno reported that John Collins' death was not the result of the aircraft incident - his medical condition occurred prior to the airplane landing.
John was the president and founder of C&S Manufacturing and was an EAA member from 2002 to 2005.