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Couple dies after pilot passes out and wife radios for help

December 30, 1997

GUYTON, Ga. (AP) _ A pilot collapsed at the controls of a twin-engine plane, and his wife radioed for help in a vain attempt to save them before she also passed out and the plane crashed.

Two Marines attempting a rescue from their fighter jet could only watch helplessly as the plane spiraled down through thick clouds Monday. It skidded through a clearing, hit a parked car and crashed in a small pond near this southeastern Georgia town, killing Joseph D. Black, 67, of Devon, Pa., and his 58-year-old wife, Louise.

The Blacks were flying from Orlando, Fla., to White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., when Black passed out over northeastern Florida for unknown reasons. Mrs. Black, who had taken a few flying lessons, radioed air traffic control at Jacksonville International Airport. Controllers guided her as she put the small plane on automatic pilot, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

But then she passed out, apparently from lack of oxygen, as the plane climbed above 25,000 feet, the capacity of its pressurized cabin.

An air traffic controller called for help after losing contact when the plane reached 33,000 feet.

Marine Maj. Stephen Hoyle and Capt. Gary Lee of the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C., were on a training mission in an F/A-18 fighter when they answered the call. Hoyle said the plane had reached 35,000 feet and was slowing down when they saw it.

The Marines flew in circles around the Blacks’ plane, but Hoyle got no response to repeated calls.

``Unfortunately, we couldn’t do anything to help the people,″ he said. ``We were hoping we could raise somebody on the airplane to decrease their altitude and come down and maybe get them to somebody who could help them get down.″

There was some evidence that Mrs. Black may have regained consciousness as the plane descended and made one last try to land it. Some witnesses said the aircraft circled the area two or three times before it went down.

``It looked to me like she had lost control of the airplane, but had regained control and had a chance to land it,″ said Skip Starling, who led the volunteer fire department’s dive team that found the bodies.

Black, an experienced pilot, was founder and president of Valley Forge Technical Communications, a company that employs about 300 people and makes technical training manuals for the auto industry.

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