WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Henry Anhalt had never flown an airplane, but his life and the lives of his wife and children depended on him when their pilot passed out at the controls.
Anhalt safely landed the single-engine plane with help from a flight instructor who told him how to fly and guided him to an airport.
The pilot, Kristopher Pearce, 36, was pronounced dead. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Anhalt made a mayday call Saturday afternoon, saying he needed help landing the six-seat Piper aircraft. He and his wife and three children were returning from a church retreat in the Bahamas when Pearce lost consciousness.
The plane was spotted by Dan McCullough, a part-time flight instructor who was flying in the area giving lessons to Rob Garcia.
Anhalt didn't seem frightened, McCullough said.
''He was real calm and was able to give me directions about the instruments,'' he said.
While Anhalt practiced controlling the aircraft with Anhalt's instructions, his wife, Becky Anhalt, 33; and sons Jeremiah, 11; Jacob, 7; and Joseph, 2, were buckled up in the passenger seats behind him.
When Anhalt was ready and firefighters were in place, they headed for Winter Haven Airport.
''I just gave him directions how to get it over the runway and then to cut the engine,'' McCullough said. ''I had to keep him level. If he came in too steep, he'd dive into the ground. If he came in too far back, he'd stall.''
Thirty minutes after taking the controls of an airplane for the first time, Anhalt landed.
The plane struck a runway hard, bounced and touched down again, then veered across a grassy median and came to a stop on an adjacent runway. The plane had minimal damage, police said.
''He couldn't have done much better if he had kept it in the middle of the runway,'' Garcia said.