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Helen and John Collins, a Wisconsin couple married for more than half a century, were flying home from their winter home in Florida on April 2. John, an 81-year-old who flew hundreds of hours each year with his private pilot’s license, was at the helm of a Cessna twin-engine plane when he suddenly fell unconscious a few miles from their hometown. The couple’s son, James Collins, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that his 80-year-old mother, the only passenger, immediately knew his father was dead.

Helen called 911, saying she believed her husband was stricken by a heart attack, and explaining that she had undergone minimal training for flying, some 20 years ago. After circling near the airport for about an hour, she began to hear the engine sputter and knew that she had to get the plane on the ground.

As authorities were alerted, her son—also a pilot—helped guide…

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