Wife takes plane controls mid-flight when pilot passes out - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Wife takes plane controls mid-flight when pilot passes out

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(AP/ CBS 8) - A woman took over the controls of a small airplane when her pilot-husband started having trouble breathing and speaking on a flight from California to Colorado, authorities said.

Ground controllers in Colorado and a Great Lakes Airlines pilot in another plane helped her guide the smaller craft.

"I was terrified - terrified," the woman said. "I don't know how well I was flying that plane. I was trying, it was terrifying. I had never ben responsible for a plane before."

The FAA has not identified the couple. The specifics of the man's medical problem, who apparently suffered from hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen to the brain,  weren't available.

An air traffic controller in Longmont, Colo., noticed the 70-year-old pilot appeared to have difficulty breathing during a routine conversation they were having, KCNC reported. The woman said her husband was slurring his speech and was unable to push the buttons.

The controller said he wasn't able to make contact with the pilot after the plane began to make erratic maneuvers. The pilot's wife got on the radio to say her husband had been incapacitated.

A pilot from a Great Lakes airplane heading to New Mexico began flying toward the single-engine Cirrus SR22 to offer assistance. The commercial pilot managed to instruct the woman on how to turn the autopilot on and begin a controlled descent.

At one point, the plane swerved away from its emergency landing route and began heading toward the high terrain of the San Juan mountains. As the plane began to drop, the controller attempted to reach the passenger so she could turn the plane away from the mountains. The controller eventually guided the plane toward lower terrain.

"I was pretty scared," the woman said.

She said she even considered killing the engine and deploying the plan's emergency parachute.

The pilot recovered in time as the plane descended and was able to land the plane safely in Farmington, N.M.

Afterwards, the pilot's wife praised the controller and commercial pilot for the assistance they provided her.

"They were just total professionals and helped me so much," she said. "It was gratifying."

The couple was flying from San Bernardino, Calif., to Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 17 when it happened.

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