Pilot Dies and Passenger, 81, Lands Cessna

<i> From Associated Press</i>

An 81-year-old man with no flying experience landed a small airplane Wednesday with the help of voices on the radio after the pilot died at the controls.

Robert Kupferschmid and friend Wesley Sickle were flying from Indianapolis to Muncie to have lunch when Sickle, 52, suddenly slumped in his seat.

Kupferschmid said he grabbed the flight stick of the two-seat Cessna and prayed.

“The plane started nosing to the ground,” he said. “I got on the radio and asked for help.”


Mike Bowen was flying about 20 miles away, doing aerial surveys of gas lines for a utility company. He heard Kupferschmid’s plea for help and quickly located Mount Comfort as having the nearest airport.

Kupferschmid, meanwhile, listened to a steady stream of instructions.

“I described to him what I do every day,” Bowen said. “He was concerned, but he never sounded frantic.”

Emergency crews were called to the airport, figuring a crash was imminent.


From his cockpit, flying close behind the runaway airplane, Bowen gave instruction on climbing, steering and--the scariest part of all--landing.

Witnesses said the plane’s nose nudged the center line and bounced a few times before the tail struck the ground. The craft wound up in a patch of soggy turf next to the runway. The only visible damage was a bent propeller.