COSTA MESA, Calif. — The pilot of a small plane that made a nighttime emergency landing on a Southern California freeway said as soon as the engine died he knew he’d never make it to a nearby airport.
“I saw an opening on the highway and I went for it right away,” Israel Slod said after safely guiding the single-engine Beech G33 onto State Route 55 in Costa Mesa on Sunday night.
Fire Capt. Chris Coates said it was a “complete miracle” that traffic was light and the plane didn’t hit any cars or cause a collision. No injuries were reported. Fire officials described Slod as an experienced pilot.
Passenger Daniel Gross said he and Slod were over the ocean flying from San Diego to John Wayne Airport in Orange County when the engine suddenly stopped.
“I didn’t think we were going to die, but I had no idea where we were going to end up,” said Gross. “We had about a minute and a half from when we lost power to when we were on the ground. It happened really quickly. You don’t think about that when you’re falling from the sky.”
All northbound lanes were closed as crews towed the small aircraft off the freeway.
The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the incident, which occurred just a few miles from the fiery crash last summer of a small plane on Interstate 405. The pilot and his wife spent weeks in a hospital being treated for injuries that included spinal fractures. Nobody on the ground was hurt.
Gross said he was still a little bit in shock.
“It’s crazy. I mean we landed in the middle of the freeway. I don’t want to do that ever again,” he said.