The pilot of a single-engine plane with an engine problem had just seconds to make a mid-air, now-or-never decision that ultimately may have prevented a tragedy.
After reporting engine issues at about midday Tuesday on approach to Corona Municipal Airport in Riverside County, pilot Andrew Cho quickly surveyed his options.
Landing at the airport, which he could see from one side of the plane, wasn’t possible without hitting a building.
On the other side of his plane he saw cars streaming along the 91 Freeway — and an inviting gap in traffic.
“On the right side of my plane was the freeway, and my biggest fear was, of course, hitting other cars,” Cho said. “But I saw enough of a gap there, and I just headed for the gap..”
A rear-facing camera from a car on the freeway captured what happened next. The plane can be seen landing hard in freeway lanes between several vehicles before erupting in flames and sliding onto the shoulder of the road.
In another video, Cho and his passenger can be seen running from the burning wreckage and thick black smoke.
“I’m ecstatic I’m alive,” Cho, who has 12 years of flying experience, said after the crash.
The only damage, other that the crumpled and burned Piper PA-32, appeared to be the tail-light and tail-gate of a pickup that was clipped by the plane.
No injuries to anyone on the ground were reported.
Hours later, after some time to decompress, Cho spoke with NBCLA about the harrowing series of events.
“Like any normal person, you’re thinking of family,” Cho said. “Just very happy the only thing lost was the plane itself.”
Cho and a friend were returning from a midday flight to Santa Catalina Island off the Southern California coast. Approaching Corona Municipal Airport, he said the engine wasn’t responding properly.
Cho credited his training with helping him pull off the landing.
“You never stop flying a plane just because you lose an engine. Your plane doesn’t drop out of the sky. You fly it all the way to the ground.”
The plane went down on the eastbound 91 Freeway in Corona, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire.
Driver Armando Ramirez said he was traveling from Santa Ana to visit family when he felt something strike the rear of his pickup. He said he felt very fortunate to avoid much worse.
Lanes were closed near the Buena Vista Avenue exit. Eastbound traffic came to a standstill after the crash.
Source: NBC Los Angeles