Carli McConaughy was on a helicopter tour of the island of Oahu with her fiance, Adam Barnett, when the pilot stopped talking, then slumped over as they were about 1,000 feet above the ocean, WGN reported.
"At first I thought he was playing a bad trick on us, and when I realized he wasn't waking up, I didn't know what to do," McConaughy told WGN.
She grabbed the controls and pulled up, slowing their free fall, before crashing onto a sandbar.
Barnett and McConaughy helped pull out the pilot, who was taken to a hospital. It is unclear why he lost consciousness, WGN reported. The crash is under investigation.
Barnett and McConaughy are recovering in Joliett, Illinois, from bruises and broken bones they suffered.
“You start to think about the bigger picture a lot more after something like that happens to you,” Barnett said.