Video: Tapes capture drama of in-flight close call

  1. Closed captioning of: Tapes capture drama of in-flight close call

    >>> now we turn to a close call in the skies over colorado, when the pilot of a small plane became suddenly incapacitated and his front seat passenger who happened to be his wife, was forced to take over the controls. tonight, you'll hear the tapes of what it sounded like as this unfolded. our report from tom costello.

    >> reporter: the dramatic homeants for a private pilot and his wife started with his unintelligible radio call to controllers.

    >> reporter: very quickly, controllers realized the pilot may be flying too high and suffering from a lack of oxygen.

    >> i think you may be suffering hypo hypoxia. would you like to lower altitude in.

    >> soon, his wife was on the radio.

    >> the couple was flying a cirrus sr-22 from san bernardino , california, to colorado springs . it was in colorado that trouble hit. the nearest airport, farmingten, new mexico. they asked a crew to move in for a visual and help talk the pilot's wife down.

    >> nbc aviation consultitant john cox .

    >> when you done have enough oxygen, your speech is slurred, your mental capacity is slurred and it is diminished.

    >> you need to get below 10,000 feet.

    >> he has oxian on.

    >> as the plane descended, the pilot insisted he was in control, but to the great lakes crew, the message seemed gargled.

    >> i can tell by how he's talking. he's conscious, but he can't think straight whatsoever.

    >> ten minutes later, the pilot and his wife landed safely in farmingten, and today, they thank everybody involved. that plane is not pressurized, so above 10,000 feet, you need to have a mask, and tonight, questions if that mask was working.

    >>> now we turn to politics and a name that keeps coming up -- sarah palin . mostly because she seems to want to have her name keep coming up. this time,

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/26/2011 1:37:29 PM ET 2011-05-26T17:37:29

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 told KCNC-TV in Denver.

Neither the station nor the FAA identified the couple. The specifics of the man's medical problem weren't available.

At 12:14 p.m., an air traffic controller in Longmont, Colo., contacted the plane and noticed the 70-year-old pilot appeared to have difficulty breathing during a routine conversation, 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.

Compounding the problems, the plane was flying through dense clouds and using onboard instruments because there were no outside visual references, KCNC reported.

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 as the plane descended to about 10,000 feet and was able to land the plane safely in Farmington, N.M.

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

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to release audio and details of the event on Thursday.

The wife said she wants to say thanks to the air traffic controller and the pilot of the Great Lakes flight.

“I was thankful he was back there,” she told KCNC. “It was 40 minutes I don’t want to live over again.”

Msnbc.com staff contributed to this report from The Associated Press.

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