I am inspired to write this week about an incredible woman, Helen Collins of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the courageous 80-year-old who managed to land a plane when her husband collapsed of a heart attack, mid-flight from Florida to Wisconsin. The couple was traveling to visit their son, when John Collins, 81, collapsed at the wheel. His wife, Helen, radioed for help. Their son, Richard, waiting on the ground, became extremely nervous: “I can’t even tell her how to run a computer, let alone land a plane,” he told ABCNews.com. “It was a very trying time. I thought I was going to lose them both.”
But although he did end up losing his father, who was pronounced dead after landing, his mother’s cool head under the most difficult circumstances kept him from losing both parents. With the help of pilots, one on the ground and one in the air next to her, Helen managed to learn very quickly how to fly a plane she had never flown before–and how to land it. (Helen had flown planes in the past, but it had been 30 years since she had piloted a plane.)
“The sheriff said she was amazingly calm and alert and level-headed,” Richard Collins said of his mother whom he described as “about as frail as frail can be” after having undergone two open-heart surgeries in the past several years.
Here is my favorite part of the story: at one point, his mother apparently got frustrated with her instructors and said, “Don’t you guys have faith in me? I can do this.” And she added: “This is a hell of a place to be.”
Moments before landing, she said, “I don’t think I can do this,” but she was able to land the plane finally, after circling for an hour-and-a-half, trying to get lined up correctly with the runway. This was right at the point where one plane engine was “sputtering.” According to the director of the little airport where she landed, “She was on her last attempt….We were all watching and knew she had to do it.” As observers described it, “she bounced pretty hard, and when she bounced, the plane tilted forward and the landing gear broke.”
And what did she end up with? Only a crushed vertebra!
When Helen Collins later described her harrowing experience, she said that her husband “became unconscious and took off his seat-belt to breathe better.” He lay down in the plane and Helen saw him “turning gray.”
“She felt his hand and she knew,” Richard Collins said as his voice cracked. “Everybody is so proud of her.”
Next time I feel overwhelmed by some challenge that has been put in my lap, I hope I can remember Helen Collins and say to myself, “I can do this!”
For the full story, including a recording of Helen Collins talking to her instructors, go to the Huffington Post at this link: