The Associated Press is reporting a story about how the wife of a 70 year old pilot who became hypoxic on a flight over the Rockies from California to Colorado took over the controls of the Cirrus SR22 and flew the aircraft to a nearby airport. The FAA released the audio along with the transcript of the May 17 incident where the woman received guidance from a pilot in another aircraft and from ground controllers. The AP printed excerpts from the transcript which included the following:
“Have you ever flown an aircraft before?” asked the other pilot, who was flying a Great Lakes Airlines flight in the area and was in radio contact with the woman. “Do you have any experience?”
“No,” the woman replies
“Hang on, hang on. I’m trying to get him to put auto … autopilot,” the woman said. “I don’t know how to do this.”
“There should be a button on the autopilot panel that says H-D-G for heading,” the Great Lakes pilot said a few minutes later. “You want to push that. There should be a big knob you should turn.”
Once the woman got the autopilot turned on, the aircraft began a controlled descent and eventually the pilot became more lucid. The pilot would later safely land in Farmington, New Mexico.
Apparently, the 70-year-old pilot had been communicating with ATC when he appeared to begin have difficulty breathing. His wife would later report that he was slurring his speech and that he was unable to push any of the buttons. The aircraft began to make erratic maneuvers while the Great Lakes Pilot, who was on the same radio frequency, lent his assistance as ATC struggled to get in touch with the pilot.
Certainly there are lessons here if you plan on flying at high altitudes or over mountains to be prepared and to have your passengers prepared just in case you suffer from hypoxia. In this case, the woman had the instructions for pulling the parachute on her lap – as a last minute resort.