‘It scared me': Middletown pilot forced to make emergency landing in Kentucky

A “nice trip” a Middletown pilot had planned could have turned deadly.

On Sunday afternoon, Sam Nelson departed Middletown Regional Airport to begin his solo flight to visit relatives in Florida. But when Nelson’s single-engine Mooney airplane climbed from 9,000 to 11,000 feet over the Great Smoky Mountains due to lack of visibility, he felt “dizzy, confused,” he said.

“Like someone was sitting on my chest,” he said. “It scared me.”

In April, Nelson, 71, was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. Since then, he has waited to get treated at the Dayton VA Hospital and possibly have a treatment to address his irregular heart rhythm.

As Nelson flew over the mountains, he said the pain resembled a heart attack.

“It was time to get down,” he said. “I could have passed out.”

So he radioed for an emergency landing, and the London-Corbin Airport in London, Kentucky was cleared. Emergency vehicles from the London-Laurel Rescue Squad, London City Fire Department and London Police Department were dispatched.

Ten minutes later, Nelson landed his plane safely. He was transported to the St. Joseph London Hospital, where he was treated and admitted for one night for observation.

While in the hospital, he took medication for his atrial fibrillation so his heart “doesn’t run wild,” he said. It was beating 200 times a minute, he said.

Then he flew back to Middletown on Monday and golfed on Wednesday at Wildwood Golf Club.

Nelson, a licensed pilot since he was 16, has scheduled an appointment next month with a cardiologist in Dayton. Until he’s treated, he has “grounded” himself from flying, he said. He also will have to be medically cleared by the National Transportation Safety Board, he said.

Before his medical emergency, Nelson had planned to fly to Inverness, Fla., to visit his daughter, fly to Winter Haven, Fla., for additional flight training, then fly to Tallahassee, Fla., to see his sister.

“A nice trip planned,” he said. “It went up in smoke.”

Nelson, a retired certified public accountant, has flown more than 4,000 hours and volunteers as part of Angel Flight, a Virginia-based organization that pairs families that request air travel to medical facilities with pilots who donate their time, aircraft and fuel.

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