Released audio paints the scene as an 80-year-old Wisconsin woman was forced to land a plane on her own after her husband had a heart attack.

Helen Collins had very little flight experience, as the dramatic flight recordings show, but remained composed as she talked with a dispatcher.

Helen Collins: “I’m in an airplane, we’re about 15 minutes from Sturgeon Bay. And my husband’s having a problem.”
Dispatcher: “What kind of problems is he having?”
Helen: “I’m not a pilot.”
Dispatcher: “OK, what kind of problems is he having?”
Helen: “I think he’s passed out.”

Cathy Vuksanovic, a veteran flight instructor, coached Helen as her husband, Robert Vuksanovic, fired up his plane to guide Helen’s Cessna to the runway.

Helen: “Hi Cathy, this is a hell of a place to be.”
Cathy: “Sounds like you’re doing great.”

Cathy: “You don’t ever want the air speed to get below 100. You probably know that right?”
Helen: “Yes I do. How do I control that? With the throttle?”

Up in the air, Robert coached Helen through practice runs.

Robert: “Ok, pick it up, Pitch up, pitch up, pitch up there Helen, pitch up there Helen. You’re turning too sharp. Just fly south, fly south of the airport.”
Helen: “I’m getting all these instructions and I’m not paying attention to where I’m flying.”
Robert: “I’ll be joining up there with you in about two minutes.”
Helen: “Hurry up.”

Flying in formation, Robert was able to give Helen detailed instructions.

Robert: “Come up on the power just a little bit, about the same amount of movement as you did before.”
Helen: “You want me to put more flaps down?”
Robert: “Once you put the powers up, once you push the throttles up a little bit, then put another notch of flaps down and you might have to trim back to hold the nose up.”

Helen: “I’m running out of gas. My right engine is out.”

Helen headed in for an emergency landing. After the plane bounced, skidding across a grassy area, the front landing gear collapsed and the plane stopped, its nose into the ground.

Helen and her husband John were rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

Reporting by Jim Axelrod

Comments (2)
  1. Larry says:

    Bravo Helen!! I for one can take quite a lesson in your courage. My prayers are with you and your family.

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