Door Co. community remembers businessman, pilot who died in air

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Funeral services were held Tuesday, April 10th for Door County business leader John Collins. 81-year-old Collins died of an apparent heart attack last week while piloting his small airplane.

Collins' 80-year-old wife, Helen landed the plane safely after taking the controls.

"Today is a day for our family to celebrate my dad, John Collins' fulfilling life, together with his friends and the community of Door County," Collins' daughter said Tuesday.

Collins' family said they will repair the plane damaged by the hard landing, and continue to fly, saying it is what Collins would have wanted.

Helen Collins had some flight training years ago but was not familiar with the controls of the Cessna twin-engine plane when her husband passed out, said Keith Kasbohm, director of Cherryland Airport where she landed, near Sturgeon Bay.

Another pilot took to the skies to guide Collins to the ground, but she had to land the aircraft herself. "She was on her last attempt to get lined up with the runway,'' Kasbohm said. "She reported one engine was sputtering on that last attempt to land. We were all watching and knew she had to do it.''

John Collins was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Helen Collins had called 911 from the Cessna prompting air traffic controllers in Green Bay to alert Kasbohm. "The first thing I thought of is, 'We have to find someone to help talk this woman down,''' he said.

Kasbohm called Robert Vuksanovic, a pilot who lived just a mile from the airport. Vuksanovic jumped in another plane owned by the Collins and flew up to meet the Cessna while instructing the novice on the radio. "He felt it would be easier,'' Kasbohm said. "With him alongside of her he could control her speed and altitude'' before she attempted a landing.

Kasbohm described Collins as "cool, calm and collected on the radio'' as the aircraft made a hard landing and skidded about 1,000 feet before coming to rest. "She must have flown around here about 10 times,'' said Torry Lautenbach, whose property is next to the airport. "She did a really good job (landing the plane). It was amazing,'' Lautenbach said. "It took one bad hop and then it came back down and skidded.''

The Collins, of Sturgeon Bay, own a small manufacturing company in Door County, authorities said. John Collins founded C & S Manufacturing in 1962, according to the company's website.