Pilot, passenger uninjured after landing plane on I-5 near Del Mar

Small plane on freeway
A small plane made an emergency landing on the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Del Mar on Tuesday. According a witness, several cars were damaged.
(Mike Gibba / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

A pilot in a small plane that was experiencing mechanical troubles made an emergency landing Tuesday afternoon on Interstate 5 near the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Both the pilot and passenger of the single-engine Piper PA-32 aircraft were uninjured, but two people in vehicles struck by the plane suffered minor injuries, according to California Highway Patrol spokesperson Officer Sal Castro and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Paramedics took both to hospitals. Their injuries included superficial cuts from shattered glass, according to José Ysea, a spokesperson for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.


At least four vehicles were hit by the single-propeller plane as it landed just after noon in the southbound lanes of I-5 near Via de la Valle, Castro said. Footage from the scene showed part of the aircraft ended up lodged in the shattered windshield of an Audi SUV.

Sarah Tribett and her husband, in town from Texas to celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary, were driving south on the freeway in a rented Kia sedan when suddenly the car’s back window blew out.

“I didn’t know at the time it was a plane,” Tribett told OnScene TV. “But it hit really hard and all of the sudden there was just glass everywhere ... and I looked up and there was the plane, in front of us, just kind of all over the road.”

Tribett and her husband “were just scared to death” at first, but she later felt grateful they weren’t injured. She said people in vehicles behind her told the couple that their rental car “actually broke the fall” of the plane.

“They came up after and told us the plane landed on the back of our car, then kind of swung around and hit a few others,” Tribett said. “Obviously we couldn’t see it.”

She said the plane’s pilot and passenger came over later to apologize.

According to Castro, the pilot took off from Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport — commonly known as Montgomery Field — in Kearny Mesa and was flying along the coast when the aircraft started to experience mechanical problems near Del Mar.


The pilot tried to land in a nearby dirt field, but was unable to do so and instead set the plane down on the freeway. It came to rest with its nose and part of its left wing hanging over the center median.

“Luckily it’s minor injuries and nobody sustained major injuries or even sustained any fatal injuries,” Castro said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, which snarled traffic as officials shut down all lanes of I-5 in both directions. Authorities progressively reopened lanes throughout day, with the last closed lanes reopening about 5 p.m.

Riggins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune. City News Service also contributed to this report.