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Wife takes over flight after pilot collapses

May 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A wife took over for her pilot husband when he became ill while they were flying. The couple landed safely in New Mexico.

The couple was en route from San Bernardino to Colorado when the pilot started having trouble breathing.

The incident occurred on May 17. They were heading home to Colorado Springs.

The 70-year-old pilot of the plane had some kind of medical problem, perhaps hypoxia, a lack of oxygen caused by the altitude they were flying in a Cirrus SR-22. His wife radioed a control tower in Denver and took over. She had no flying experience.

"November One Whiskey Alpha, I think you might be experiencing some hypoxia, would you like a lower altitude?" said the control tower to the pilot.

That's when the pilot stopped responding, and his wife, the passenger, tried to take control. The controller and someone else in a nearby plane got on the radio to help.

"One Whiskey Alpha, are you descending now?" asks the nearby pilot.

"Yes, I can't talk much because I, I got to hold the oxygen to my face, and the mic, and the thing. I can't tell what's going on," said the woman.

"Roger, One Whiskey Alpha, copy. Have you ever flown an aircraft before, do you have any experience?" asks the nearby pilot.

"No," said the woman.

"I'm sorry, One Whiskey Alpha, are you flying the aircraft without the autopilot now?" said the controller.

"I'm sure trying," said the woman.

A few minutes later, the pilot becomes somewhat coherent again, and once again tries to fly the plane.

"November One Whiskey Alpha, have you got the pilot getting better, are you able to breathe?" asks the controller.

"Yes I am, but I've got an autopilot [unintelligible] disabled, I, I don't understand," said the woman flying the plane.

There's still difficulty, but the pilot and his wife were able to land safely at an airport in Farmington, New Mexico. It might not have ended that way though, without a lot of help from the controller and the nearby plane.

"Lakes Air 762, and like I said I appreciate all your help," said the controller to the nearby pilot.

"Yeah, sure thing," said the nearby pilot.

The plane the couple was in was equipped with a parachute. The man's wife had been trained in how to deploy it.

The 70-year-old pilot later released a statement: "My wife and I are extremely grateful for the great efforts of the FAA controllers and the assistance of the other pilot. This helped bring this incident, which was very frightening for my wife, to a happy conclusion. The medical issue is still being evaluated."

The man is reportedly recovering at home in Colorado Springs.

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