A 37-year-old Montrose man who landed his small plane on a Granada Hills street after running out of gas was allowed by authorities to pilot his craft to the Van Nuys Airport early Friday.
The only hitch was that they wouldn't let him leave the ground.
In one of the odder motorcades in San Fernando Valley history, Arthur Parma instead taxied his Piper Cherokee 140 about five miles through dark residential streets, reaching the airport about 2 a.m.
Five hours earlier, Parma--running out of gas just short of the airport--had skillfully avoided utility lines, cars and homes to land in the 11200 block of White Oak Avenue near Index Street.
Surrounded by four patrol cars with lights flashing and sirens wailing, the pilot received an escort normally reserved for visiting dignitaries. Patrol cars blocked off streets and forced stunned drivers to move aside. About two dozen cars loaded with curious people followed the plane and police, creating a late-night procession across the quiet streets of Mission Hills.
"This is crazy! Who is this guy? Who does he think he is?" shouted rowdy pickup truck passengers as the parade turned south onto Hayvenhurst Avenue from Rinaldi Street. Other cars honked their horns, flashed their lights and ran red lights in order to keep pace.
Parma taxied slowly, rarely exceeding 25 m.p.h and stopping carefully at every stoplight until waved on by his escort.
Finally arriving at an airport entrance near Covello Street and Valjean Avenue, Parma jubilantly shouted: "It's over! I can't believe it!"
Parma's journey began about 5 p.m. when he left an airport in Crescent City about 745 miles to the north on what he said was an uneventful flight--until he ran out of gas.
"I left with both tanks full; that should be enough gas to last me six hours but I was only in the plane 4 hours and 40 minutes. You just can't trust the gauges," Parma said, shaking his head.
After his landing in the street, a friend who heard about his plight on television showed up to help him gas the plane. Police and the Federal Aviation Administration were about to allow him to take off again, converting a 1,500-foot stretch of White Oak Avenue into an impromptu runway.
Just after midnight, police changed their minds, offering to escort him on land rather than letting him risk the takeoff.
"Would you trust him after this?" said a police officer who asked not to be named.
Parma, appearing frustrated and perplexed, protested that he was "only about a pint away from Van Nuys."
"You were also about a pint away from hitting those hills," rejoined FAA official Barry McCoy, gesturing north to the Santa Susana Mountains.
Under federal rules "no person may begin a flight in an airplane . . . unless there is enough fuel to fly" 45 minutes beyond the destination if traveling at night, FAA spokeswoman Elly Brekke said Friday.
Parma faces possible penalties that range from suspension of his pilot's license to a warning or "a driver's school for pilots," Brekke said.
Shortly after he landed in the street, Parma was pessimistic. "I'm in a whole lot of trouble," he said.