Octogenarian woman lands airplane moments after her pilot husband dies in the cockpit

An 80-year-old woman from Wisconsin pulled off a death-defying airplane landing moments after her pilot husband died from a heart attack in mid-air. She doesn’t have a flying licence, but she did practise take offs and landings about 30 years ago, her son, James Collins, told the Associated Press.

Collins described how his mother, Helen, remained calm as she circled the airport about 240 km north of Milwaukee, even after one engine failed and the other sputtered as the plane ran out of gas. “I don’t know if there are a lot of trained pilots that could do that,” he said. “Everybody is proud of her.”

Helen and her husband, John, were returning from their vacation home in Florida on Monday evening. As they approached the landing strip near the northeastern Wisconsin community of Sturgeon Bay, John unbuckled his seat belt and collapsed from a heart attack. Helen reportedly knew that her husband was dead when she called 911 from the air and took control of their twin-engine Cessna.

Another pilot took off to help guide her onto the landing strip via radio. After reportedly circling about 10 times, the plane touched down on the runway. It bounced once and its front wheel collapsed before it skidded to a halt, witnesses said. Helen was taken to hospital with injuries to her back and a cracked rib, but is reportedly going to be all right.