Crashed Cessna 152
Originally uploaded by

It's funny how just the other day I mentioned that it's rare for planes to develop non-fuel related engine problems. Well a two seat Piper Cherokee landed on I-680 yesterday afternoon after developing engine trouble. And it didn't run out of gas either. ;-)

According to the Mercury News:

No one was injured as the plane touched down near Mission Boulevard just before 3 p.m., clogging commute traffic only briefly.
An instructor pilot and a student had departed Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose at 2 p.m. They were on their way back when the two-seater Piper Cherokee 140 began encountering difficulties.
After the occupants warned the nearest airport, in Hayward, they landed on the freeway as motorists -- without any help from police or the California Highway Patrol -- slowed and made way for the aircraft. The white-and-blue plane then taxied to the right-hand shoulder along the southbound lanes.

It sounds like they did exactly what they should have done: they got the plane down safely.

There was some discussion at our safety seminar the other night about landing on roads. Len mentioned that landing on a road is often not the best option you have. But in this case, they seem to have picked a good one. I-680 is many lanes wide and basically straight in that area. When landing on a multi-lane highway like this, I suspect there are two major problems to watch out for:

  1. bridges and overpasses
  2. cars that don't see you coming

Luckily bridges and overpasses are usually spaced out enough that you can probably make it work if you're at a reasonable altitude. Dealing with traffic is more difficult. Those guys landing around 3pm when I-680 isn't yet wall to wall cars. They got lucky. At 5pm it would have been far more difficult to do.

If I was doing that in a plane where the engine completely quit (it sounds like they had partial power), I'd probably dive at the road and use the airspeed to hold the plane roughly 10 feet off the pavement until the energy dissipated. That'd give drivers a better chance of seeing me and reacting. Because, let's face it, most drivers aren't looking up at the sky our out of sunroofs when heading down the highway. So the longer you give the to slow down and make room, the better your chances are.

Anyway, I'm scheduled to fly at Reid-Hillview Airport this weekend. I'm sure there will be lots of hangar talk about this incident.

BTW, the picture at the right came from Steve Foster. He said:

A student pilot in our flight club hit a bird on takeoff. When landing, the damaged wing didn't have any lift and she slide off the side of the runway and flipped the plane. She walked away unharmed and was cool enough to shutdown the electrical systems and grab her purse and flight bag.
She had no hesitation returning to the air.

While aviation accidents aren't good to see, knowing that the pilots often walk away from them sure is encouraging.

Note to Bay Area Pilots: There's another FAA Safety Seminar tonight at the Radisson Plaza Hotel near SJC called "Do the Right Thing: Decision Making for Pilots." It looks to be an excellent session.

Posted by jzawodn at January 05, 2006 07:46 AM

Reader Comments
# pmp said:

I sat through that parking lot yesterday. I was hoping to make a quick ride home to Dublin, but that sure did snarl up traffic. All the news vans and CHP officers standing on the shoulder waving on traffic didn't seem to help the situation either.

on January 5, 2006 08:05 AM
# dan isaacs said:

It is my opinion that anyone coming to a near stop to gawk at an accident on the highway should be ticketed. If not shot.

on January 5, 2006 08:19 AM
# Nick Arnett said:

Another significant obstacle to watch out for -- power lines. They're very hard to see from above and they're often next to highways. One of the first places my flight instructor pulled the engine on me was over 680 north of the Sunol grade. There are power lines criss-crossing that area and she wanted to see if I'd pay attention to them as I chose my landing spot.

on January 5, 2006 08:25 AM
# Rasmus said:

Jeremy, 3pm was bad enough since it took a while to get the plane cleared off the highway. Traffic was backed all the way back onto the 237 at 6pm and I had to pull out all the tricks to avoid that mess.

on January 5, 2006 08:45 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Nick, you're right. But I was thinking of problems that are unique to the highway. Powerlines are a consideration anytime you're landing anywhere "off airport" in a pinch.

on January 5, 2006 08:51 AM
# pjm said:

I thought one of the design rules for interstates (back when they had a military motivation) was that, where possible, long and straight stretches (presumably without overpasses) were to be included for use as landing strips? (Ah: Wikipedia says it's an urban legend: )

on January 5, 2006 09:28 AM
# grumpY! said:

the biggest danger you face in landing on a bay area highway is getting your ass kicked. people are very sensitive about having their commute time quadrupled.

on January 5, 2006 02:45 PM
# rr said:

I drove by it at around 3:30. As I got on at Scott Creek, I wondered what on earth could warrant 4 hovering news copters. Thought I had been transported to LA. It's amazing how much interest successful forced landings generate.

That's a great stretch of road to put a plane down on, but I'm reminded of the guy that put down on 680 in Concord and sliced into a van and a girl's leg with the prop. I'd look really hard for an alternate before mixing it up with freeway traffic.

on January 5, 2006 03:29 PM
# alek said:

The CLASSIC "land on the highway" movie is at ... but something seems wrong with their downloads, so view a copy out on my site at

Nutshell summary is America Airlines DC-10 loses engines, has to make emergency landing on 405 Highway. LAPD clears all traffic ... except for one guy in a pickup ... and one grandma - great 3 minute, 9 MByte clip. If you are an aviation guy, you'll love this one.

BTW, since Jeremy mention the safey seminer, look REAL CLOSE at the 1:39 mark ... and tell me if you notice an anomoly - there are a few others ... but overall, they guys did a great job.

on January 5, 2006 07:56 PM
# Paul Pencikowski said:

A guy at work (C-182) had the engine quit, landed on the freeway out in the Mojave, was pushing it off the road when the plane got hit BY A DRUNK (10am).

on January 5, 2006 09:29 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

What are the odds of *that*?!

on January 5, 2006 09:39 PM
# Steve Foster said:

Thanks for the plug. I was afraid I was going to have to resort to paid linking to get any real traffic to my site…;)

Paid linking, SEO, an emergency landing on the highway, a bird strike and blogs; there’s a joke in here somewhere.

on January 6, 2006 03:19 AM
# Allspaw said:

*way* before I was doing any work in technology, I worked for the USDOT, in the Vehicle Crashworthiness Division.

A subset of our group was actually Aircraft Crashworthiness, and I attended a few seminars on that topic. While many people would assume that any plane crash/emergency landing is fatal, they obviously don't have to be. :)

on January 7, 2006 07:20 AM
# Giles said:

The link's not working for me, but looking like an interesting story.

on January 17, 2006 07:29 PM
# Noel said:

Type your comment here.

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on August 24, 2009 12:08 AM
# Noel said:

The plane with the bent prop in the news photo is not a Piper Cherokee 140; it is either a Cessna 150 or 152 (just for the record).

on August 24, 2009 12:10 AM
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