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Light Plane Lands on Highway

On February 13, James Riordan and a group of his flying friends were on their way to a Saturday morning fly-in near Sacramento, California, when he found himself in the situation for which all pilots must be ready. The engine quit about four miles from Cameron Airpark, and there was no obvious place to land. He attempted a restart which was unsuccessful and started looking for a clear space between the cars on Highway 50. He’s quoted as saying the biggest thing on his mind was not hurting anyone else. He skillfully landed between two vehicles but clipped one with a wingtip, spun around, and broke the landing gear. No one was injured. Traffic was blocked until the plane could be taken out on a trailer. Several videos are available, but very few quality still photos have emerged. The aircraft was a Rans S-9 single-seat experimental, also known as “Chaos,” a fact not neglected by new reporters.

Plane on highway

Surprisingly, there have been five highway landings in the United States reported in the media in the first two months of 2010. None of them caused any injuries. Sometimes landing on the road is the right thing to do. An experienced flight instructor once said that after the engine quits, the airplane has only one function, which is to save the life of the pilot (and passengers). Worldwide media reporting of these occurrences is common. When Tom Shappell landed on a highway near St. Augustine, Florida, on February 1 due to fuel starvation, he probably didn’t realize his picture would turn up on a German website, among others. When traffic pilot Frank Vogt landed on the New Jersey Turnpike on the same day, the syndicated wire services broadcasted photos and videos which can be seen on websites in Russia and India. The happiest outcome was that of Jordan Schultz who landed his 1946 Piper J-3 Cub on the interstate highway near San Antonio, Texas, on February 12 due to carburetor ice. After officials were called and the plane was checked out, he was allowed to take off again and continue his flight.

All of these pilots have two things in common. First, they successfully executed a small-scale land version of a “Sully Sullenberger” by landing their plane in a less-than-desirable spot without hurting anybody. The second is that each of these stories ends with a statement that the FAA will be investigating the accident. All pilots of certificated N-numbered aircraft know the investigation begins with a list of required documents and ends with the question, “When was your last annual condition inspection?”

The photo above from the Ann Arbor News in Michigan is from an incident in June 2009.

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