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Woman, 80, lands plane after husband dies

MILWAUKEE - 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, James Collins said he is also a pilot and had helped his mother, Helen Collins, via radio as the Cessna twin-engine plane began running out of gas Monday evening. Another pilot took to the skies to guide her to the ground at Cherryland Airport, near Sturgeon Bay, about 150 miles north of Milwaukee.

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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 by his side for hundreds of hours.

“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, Fla., 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 911 and that was when everyone came together to help her down.

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

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