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April 5th, 2012
11:07 PM ET

Gutsy grandma recorded landing plane in emergency

On Monday, 80-year-old Helen Collins and her husband took off together in a small twin-engine plane. The Wisconsin couple had spent hundreds of hours flying together with John piloting and his wife by his side. In an instant, Monday's flight turned into a nightmare when her husband suffered a fatal heart attack and lost consciousness at the controls.

Collins, who doesn't have a pilot's license, took charge of the plane, low on fuel, and began attempting an emergency landing at Cherryland Airport, about 150 miles north of Milwaukee. Friends on the ground made contact and provided guidance and reassurance.

Seven minutes after he was alerted to the situation, pilot Robert Vuksanovic was in the air, serving as a model and escort for Collins. With step-by-step instructions, she landed the aircraft despite another challenge: the right engine was out. The improvised flight lesson from Vuksanovic combined with Collins' familiarity with the controls helped get her to the ground.

The plane bounced hard off the runway and skidded about 100 feet. With minor injuries, Collins made it down safely. Her calm in the crisis and heroic maneuvering were all captured on audio and video recordings.

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soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Jo

    ANNE-MARIE, THANK YOU for pointing out the fact that the male is getting much of the attention, not the woman. I am a pilot, too, and while verbally guiding a non-pilot (although she did have a lot of flying time w/her husband) through approach and landing is challenging, flying the plane under such circumstances with her dead husband by her side is nothing short of heroic. That woman is amazing.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  2. Michael

    Anne-Marie, not to take anything away from what this amazing lady did...because it was amazing! However, a hero saves lives...He saved her life, she didn't save his.

    April 8, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  3. M Vera

    she is my hero

    April 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  4. Mary Ann

    What a wonderful, yet sad story. Being the wife of a pilot, I learned enough to land a plane in an emergency, but that was single engine small plane. I am not sure I could do what this 80 year old lady did. Many kudos go to her.

    April 7, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • Esther Fitzgibbon

      What an amazing story...why to go grandma!!!!

      April 10, 2012 at 2:58 am |
  5. Brad

    "Monday's flight turned into a nightmare when her husband suffered a fatal heart attack " – think he passed...

    April 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  6. Michael

    First!
    Hey CNN, what happened to the husband? Is he ok now?

    April 6, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Gibby

      The story said the husband had a "fatal" heart attack. So I don't think so.

      April 7, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • Trey

      At the end of the segment we were told that he was pronounced dead. Did you not watch it?

      April 7, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Dave

      "when her husband suffered a fatal heart attack " :(

      April 7, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • jimnammack

      Hey, Michael. in the first paragraph, it says that her husband had a fatal heart attack. That is a clue.

      April 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • lyle lorenson

      "...fatal heart attack..."

      April 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Roni

      He is still dead from the fatal heart attack

      April 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Bill

      FATAL Heart attack... read the story :)

      April 8, 2012 at 4:31 am |
    • Jeff

      "her husband suffered a fatal heart attack"

      April 8, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • ash

      article says – "fatal heart attack" :-(

      April 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Lukas Morkunas

      He died at the hospital, unfortunately.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Marcus

      The article said "fatal" heart attack. That means he's dead.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Mike

      No he died as it says he had a massive heart attack and was in the air and could not get treatment

      April 8, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Jamie

      Usually when they say "fatal heart attack" it means that the heart attack was fatal – as in it killed him...

      April 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Liam D.

      fatal heart attack means he died

      April 9, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Bob

      Husband suffered a fatal heart attack.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  7. Lattert

    Impressive, Tears for her loss, Cudos for her Grit.....

    April 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  8. Anne-Marie

    As usual, men get all the credit.
    I mean this guy was amazing, he is a hero, but what about the 80 year old woman? CALL HER A HERO TOO ANDERSON COOPER, just like this pilot did. She landed the plane kept it together, followed instructions with her dead husband next to her.
    And what about the HERO wife of this pilot, whose name is not mentioned? She is the one who verbally guided the 80 on what to do.

    DAMN IT, GIVE THE WOMEN IN THIS CASE MORE CREDIT THAN THE MAN. WOMEN ARE HEROs too. YES THEY ARE. DON"T BE AFRAID OF THAT. IT DOESN"T MAKE YOU LESS OF A MAN.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Trey

      Apparently you did not watch the segment by Randi Kaye, a woman, where the wife was praised by all, including the pilot that talked her down.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • Shawn Irwin

      Heros, regardless of their own sex, save other peoples lives. Did she do that?

      April 7, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • lyle lorenson

      Helen Collins.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  9. Trent Poole

    That is one tough lady !

    April 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  10. Ann V.

    Wonderful story! So sorry that she lost her husband though.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:36 am |