‘Pretty much a miracle’: Small plane with two inside safely lands on freeway in San Diego County


A flight instructor landed a small plane with a student on board on Interstate 8 in El Cajon on Friday, avoiding motorists on the busy highway and escaping injuries, authorities said.

A California Highway Patrol officer radioed about 11:30 a.m. that an aircraft appeared to be in trouble. The pilot told authorities that the single-engine plane started to lose power as the student was flying toward Gillespie Field, so he took over and landed the aircraft in the westbound lanes near Second Street, roughly three miles from the airport.

“They were on course to land at the airport … knew they weren’t going to make that path so he diverted the plane off to the south a little bit and was able to successfully make that emergency landing on Interstate 8,” CHP Officer Travis Garrow told reporters at the scene.


The pilot managed to avoid road signs, power lines and cars as he landed the plane, a feat that Garrow said was “pretty much a miracle.”

“The fact that he was successful in landing it out here was a pretty good achievement,” he said.

The Piper PA-28-161, built in 1979, is registered to So Cal Leasing at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. The California Flight Academy at Gillespie Field confirmed it operates the aircraft.

Two freeway lanes were blocked for a time as the plane was steered off the freeway to the Mollison Avenue off-ramp. Traffic on the interstate backed up as motorists slowed to check out the unusual sight.

The plane will remain on the off-ramp until it can be towed away. A mechanic might have to take the wings off before authorities can move the aircraft, Garrow said.

The FAA could not immediately be reached for comment.

Repard writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Fry is a Los Angeles Times staff writer.


1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the California Highway Patrol and the flight school.

This article was originally published at noon.