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`FLIGHT WITHOUT FEAR’ EASES PASSENGERS’ PHOBIA OF AIR TRAVEL

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In January, Carol Mirabito began having nightmares about a vacation planned for July. Telephoning the airlines for flight times made her sick to her stomach.

After finishing an eight-week program called "Flight Without Fear," however, Mirabito was able to fly in and out of New York five days after the crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa."I even sat by the window," said Mirabito, who said flying was a "thousand deaths" before she enrolled in the program sponsored by the Colorado Chapter of 99s, the international organization of licensed women pilots.

The $350 program is conducted twice a year and consists of eight 21/2-hour sessions.

"Most people don't like flying because they don't have control of the situation," said Carol Leyner, chairwoman of the Colorado 99s. The "Flight Without Fear" program, co-sponsored by United Airlines, attempts to educate people so they can willingly give up some of that control, Leyner said.

Pilots and air-traffic controllers give demonstrations and tours covering their training and qualifications.

A psychologist teaches forms of muscle relaxation and explains the nature of fear and phobias.

The program also includes a tour of the air-traffic control tower at Stapleton Airport and a chance to operate a flight simulator. Controlling the simulator gives the students more faith in the pilot and helps them relinquish control, Leyner said.

Since the program started eight years ago, more than 200 people have completed it.

More than 95 percent of the participants make the graduation flight, Leyner said. But defeating the fear of flying - which afflicts nearly 15 million Americans, according to the Boeing Corp. - may require more flights for some.

Kelly Rizley, who developed a phobia after crashing in his ultralight plane six years ago, has flown 11 times since completing the program this spring.

"I'll get worked up a bit before going, but I'll know how to handle it," Rizley said. "There is no other way to get over it than to face the fear."