A family’s pilot who collapsed at the controls of a single-engine plane died of a heart attack, an autopsy revealed.
With Kristopher Warren Pearce passed out next to him, Henry George Anhalt took control of the plane, put out a mayday call and prayed. Thirty minutes later, the father landed the six-seat aircraft safely with help from a flight instructor.
After Saturday’s landing at Winter Haven Airport, Pearce was treated by emergency personnel then taken to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
An autopsy conducted Monday showed Pearce, 36, of Haines City, suffered from coronary artery atherosclerosis, said Polk County Medical Examiner Stephen Nelson.
Anhalt, who had never piloted a plane before, was guided to the airport by pilot Dan McCullough, who told him how to work the plane’s controls.
McCullough, a part-time flight instructor from Winter Haven, found Anhalt while helping another pilot with instrument landing maneuvers at a Lakeland airport.
Hard Landing “I didn’t do anything special,” said Anhalt, 33, a technician at the Universal Studios theme park. “I’ve done what anyone else would’ve done.”
The plane struck the runway hard, bounced up then touched down again, before sharply turning onto a grassy median and coming to a full stop on an adjacent runway, police said.
No one else on the plane was hurt. The plane sustained minimal damage, police said.
“It wasn’t until we got on the ground and I realize what we’ve been through that I started shaking and shaking,” said Anhalt’s wife, Becky, 33, who was in the passenger seats with the couple’s sons Jeremiah, 11; Jacob, 7, and Joseph, 2.
The Anhalts were returning from a church retreat in the Bahamas, where they had taught vacation Bible school. The trip was organized by their church, the Lighthouse World Outreach in Davenport.
Pearce, chairman of the Northridge Christian Academy school board, had on several occasions volunteered to take church members to the Bahamas in his Piper.
He had flown the Anhalts to the Bahamas a week earlier. It was the first time Pearce had met the family.