Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pilot Stabbed In Air; Manages Safe Landing...

The Evening Independent, October 12, 1973
If anything can be definitively stated about madness it would be that it's often a trickling disease. That is, symptoms appear sparsely at the onset and then slowly accumulate until the malady floods over into cataclysm.

Such seems to have been the case with Sally Helmle of Garden City, Michigan. In October of 1973 she was separated from her husband and their youngest child was suffering from leukemia when she decided to take the boy and his two sisters on an airplane ride "to see the fall colors in the trees."

She enlisted charter pilot Robert Sayers of Wyandotte to perform the task at the Grosse Ile Municipal Airport. After two hours of sight seeing in the air Sayers informed the woman that he was going to land the plane. Mrs. Helmle became upset then grabbed the control stick and put the plane into a nosedive, stating, "It's all over for you buddy, and all of us."

To complete her suicide mission she then produced a letter opener and stabbed the former navy pilot before he managed to wrestle the weapon from her hand and right the course of the flyer. For a moment she calmed herself, apologized and seemed to regain her bearings. Only to relapse into madness by pulling out a butcher knife from a diaper bag and further stabbing the already wounded pilot.

Sayers manged to grab the knife from her hand while she continued to struggle with him as he somehow managed to land the plane despite a half dozen stab wounds and a madwoman assaulting him. She was taken to Wayne County General Hospital and held under observation.

Helmle was later charged with four counts of attempted murder but was considered unfit to stand trial. She was then remanded to Ypsilanti State Hospital for mental health treatment. She was held there until the following year when, in December 1974, a controversial state supreme court decision ruled that mental patients couldn't be held indefinitely after being acquitted of a crime for reason of insanity unless they were deemed insane and a danger to herself and others.

The fact that she had attempted to kill her children, a pilot and herself would seem justification to hold her over for an extended period of treatment. It wasn't sufficient enough to the courts and she was discharged. A decision that would prove both foolish and fatal as just six months later she would kill both herself and the young boy after driving her vehicle into Lake St. Clair and drowning the pair.

The tragedy would have been compounded if not for the fact that Helmle purposely left her 10-year-old daughter Linda at a nearby candy store before committing the deadly act.

Grosse Pointe News, June 12, 1975

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