Separating fact from fiction in Wisconsin emergency landing

sturgeon_1.jpg The story of the woman who landed a plane in Wisconsin after her husband died sounds a little more dramatic if you ignore the fact the woman clearly knew what she was doing.

But no embellishment was needed in the story of what happened after 81-year-old John Collins lost consciousness. His wife, Helen, who was a passenger, began to fly the plane around the Sturgeon Bay area.

She’s not a pilot, but her son today revealed she knew how to take off and land a plane because her now-late husband taught her how 30 years ago just in case something happened to him.

It’s an assessment another son didn’t give to MSNBC:


Somehow, in what Richard describes as “a miracle,” Helen managed to touch down safely at Cherryland.

“She didn’t even know how to drop the landing gear,” Richard said. “I can’t even tell my mom how to run a computer!”

Amazingly, Helen didn’t suffer any major injuries, Richard said. While the plane landed nose-first, and Helen got some bruises in the process, she is expected to be OK.

That’s a different sort of story than another son offered to the Associated Press today


Collins’ son James said his mother knew her husband had died after he fell unconscious, yet she remained calm. He said his mother had learned to take off and land about 30 years ago at her husband’s urging, in case something happened to him. She has flown hundreds of hours by his side.

Talking to the Associated Press exclusively in a telephone interview Tuesday, James Collins said he’s also a pilot and that he helped his mother Collins via radio from the ground as the other pilot helped her out in the air.

“At one point she didn’t even want the wingman to go up,” he said. “She said, `Don’t you guys think I could do this on my own? Don’t you have confidence in me?’ She was calmer than everybody on the ground. She had it totally under control.”

That’s a much more intriguing story than the one originally told.

(Photo: Door County Sheriff’s Office)

  • Jim Shapiro

    I see at least 4 possible options as to why the inaccurate son said what he did:

    1) He didn’t know that his mother had been trained to land a plane; 2) He had been told but forgot; 3) The shock of his father’s death and mother’s near death threw him off; 4) He fabricated for a good story.

    I would prefer to believe that it’s one of the first three reasons, but humans being humans, I wouldn’t be shocked if it was mendacity.

  • Kat S.

    I can think of a fifth reason, Jim: Not being trained in flying himself, his understanding of what his mother accomplished was much different than that of his brother. One saw “wow! Miraculous!” and the other saw “Wow! Such a cool head!”

    I would guess that the way he experienced the emergency was different than how his brother experienced it as well, even if they were both standing next to each other. “My Mom’s in danger and I don’t know what to do!” is a different sort of terror than “My Mom’s in danger and I know exactly what it’s going to take to get her down!”

    Then, too, who knows what quotes Richard might have given that MSNBC decided weren’t dramatic enough.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Kat S. – Nice. I considered the evil media factor, but the inaccuracy of mom not knowing how to lower the landing gear led me to give the press a break this time.

    Correctly or not, but understandably, once a falsehood comes to light, the credibility of the witness is what is questioned, not that of the reporter/editor.

  • a.ferrey

    The things people get their knickers in a twist about.