An 81-year-old man with no flying experience had to land a single-engine plane after his friend died at the controls.

Robert Kupferschmid and his friend Wesley Sickle, 52, were returning from Muncie to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport on Wednesday afternoon when Sickle suddenly released his grip on the controls, flailed his arms in the air and fell over."The plane started nosing to the ground," Kupferschmid said. "I managed to pull the yoke up; I got on the radio and asked for help."

Mike Bowen, a pilot of 15 years, responded to the call. He was flying his Cherokee Piper airplane about 20 miles away, doing aerial surveys of gas lines for Citizens Gas and Coke Utility.

"I heard him say he didn't know where he was," Bowen said.

Bowen's charts indicated that the closest place to land was Mount Comfort Airport, a public facility with two landing strips just east of Indianapolis.

As he listened to the steady stream of instructions, Kupferschmid monitored the altimeter on the Cessna 172 single-propeller plane, keeping it about 2,000 feet.

"I described to him what I do every day," said Bowen. "He was concerned, but he never sounded frantic." Emergency crews were called to the airport, figuring a crash was imminent, airport manager Bob Barrons said.

From his cockpit, flying close behind the runaway airplane, Bowen gave instruction on climb-ing, steering and - the scariest part of all - descending.

"They told me what to do, what gauge to look at," Kupferschmid said. "The controllers, they did a wonderful job."

Bowen said Kupferschmid's ability to keep his cool during the 20-minute ordeal saved him.

"He did all the work," Bowen said. "All I did was tell him what to push and what to pull."