ST. LOUIS — A businessman who had never flown before but was forced to take control of a plane when the pilot died said today that he didn't panic until he was safely on the ground.
"It was just like in a movie, something you never expect to have happen to you," said Robert Dakich, who landed the single-engine Cessna 210 on Thursday afternoon at the airport in Peoria, Ill.
Although he "porpoised" the craft on landing, bouncing it back into the air, Dakich managed to pull to a stop with 600 feet left on Peoria's 6,000-foot runway.
"When you're in a situation like that, you're really not scared as much as numb," Dakich said. "I figured I had a 50-50 chance. I didn't panic until afterward. . . . I fell apart afterward."
Dakich, 31, of St. Louis, took control of the Cessna Turbo-Centaurian after the pilot, Frederick R. Krabbe, collapsed and died. Krabbe, 52, is believed to have had a heart attack.
Krabbe was able to get Dakich in radio contact with the Peoria airport before he died.
"Dick saved my life," Dakich said. "He called in and said he thought he was having a coronary. . . . He looked at me and said, 'You're going to have to fly.' "
Air traffic controllers and a flight instructor who happened to be flying in the area helped Dakich bring the plane the last 20 miles into Peoria. Dakich and Krabbe had been on a flight from Chicago to St. Louis.
"He did a heck of a job," Peoria Airport spokesman Tom Miller said. Miller said Dakich never grew frantic, even though the pilot's body kept slumping over onto the controls and had to be pushed out of the way.