STURGEON BAY - A man who helped an 80-year-old woman with little piloting experience land a plane near Sturgeon Bay is commending her for her actions.
Even though Helen Collins saved her own life, she lost her husband John in the ordeal.
John Collins owned C & S Manufacturing in Sturgeon Bay, a business he started 50 years ago. He passed out toward the end of their flight home from Florida Monday.
The couple's son says Helen knew her husband had died when he became unconscious. But she remained calm and eventually landed the plane.
It was a hard landing with the plane skidding about 1,000 feet before coming to a rest.
A pilot in a second plane is being credited for helping guide Helen Collins safely to the ground. Tuesday, that second pilot talked about how the two worked together.
When word came in there was a plane flying without its pilot, Cathy and Robert Vuksanovic headed straight to the Door County Cherryland Airport.
"Not a rushed feeling, but a feeling of you have to keep this thing going," said Robert, a licensed pilot and flight instructor.
He scrambled a second plane owned by the Collins family. Within 15 minutes, he was in the air and off the wing of Helen's plane.
"That's the number one thing we try to do in an emergency is eliminate any anxiety any nervousness," said Robert.
Vuksanovic says Helen Collins was much calmer than he expected.
"She was confident and she wanted to know if I was confident in her confidence. I said if you're confident then I'm confident, I think we can do this," said Robert.
On the ground, emergency crews secured the area. Robert's wife Cathy Vuksanovic coordinated the operation from a radio room.
"We were able to stabilize her to where she could maintain airspeed, and reduce the power setting," said Cathy, a licensed pilot and FAA inspector.
The plane had been in the air for several hours and was running low on fuel. After several practice runs, Helen pointed the nose at the end of the runway and eased the plane down.
"She did a great job, the timing was perfect. It came down and landed a little less than three point, landed on the nose gear," said Robert.
The sheriff says Helen was taken to the hospital with back injuries. Her husband John was pronounced dead from injuries not related to the crash.
"John Collins was a very close fellow aviator and we just hate to see him go," said Robert.
Together, the Vuksanovics have more than 60 years of flight training experience.
Robert Vuksanovic says this is the sixth time he's helped another pilot in distress.
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