Israel "Izzy" Slodowitz was soaring over Costa Mesa in a single-engine airplane with a friend on his way to Van Nuys from a charity dinner in San Diego the night of Jan. 28 when something went wrong.
The engine on the Beechcraft Bonanza G33 he was flying suddenly quit.
Slodowitz, a 23-year-old Israeli special operations veteran and a transfer student in his junior year at USC's Marshall School of Business, made an emergency landing at about 7:50 p.m. on the northbound 55 Freeway near the Del Mar Avenue exit.
He recounted the incident for USC's marketing and communications department last week.
"Pilots are trained for these kinds of things," Slodowitz, a licensed commercial pilot, told USC. "Still, I went on total muscle memory and didn't let myself think of anything other than landing the plane."
His boss's Beechcraft could glide for about 10 miles under normal conditions, and he was within sight of John Wayne Airport. But strong Santa Ana winds pushed him off course.
"I realized that we weren't going to make the runway," he told USC. "And because it was night, I couldn't see what was in front of the runway. I'm not going to lie — in the very back of my head, I could see how this might turn out badly."
Traffic on the 55 was thin, so he turned off the plane's battery to conserve power and glided under a freeway overpass, he told the university.
"I saw an opening on the highway and I went for it right away," Slodowitz told KTLA-TV/5. "I had to make a last-minute, last-second judgment on whether or not we could make it over [the overpass], and we didn't have the airspeed to make it over, so I went under it."
The plane didn't hit any cars or cause any collisions on the freeway, and Slodowitz was able to pull it to the side of the road. No injuries were reported, and the plane was undamaged.
Authorities are investigating what caused the engine to fail.
"I'll be back in the cockpit," Slodowitz told USC, "not because I'm crazy but because I'm logical. Aviation, statistically speaking, is safer than driving, even walking."