Airplane lands on Glenn Highway amid rush-hour traffic


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When engine fails, flight instructor and student find themselves with limited options

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: December 16, 2003)

An airplane lost power and landed on the Glenn Highway behind Northway Mall amid morning rush hour Monday. The engine on the Taylorcraft, similar to a Super Cub, failed soon after an instructor and student pilot took off from Merrill Field with the student at the controls.

Nobody was hurt, though some drivers were probably startled, said Anchorage police patrolman Terry Symonds. The plane didn't appear damaged. "By the grace of God it didn't hit any cars," he said.

The single-engine plane glided to a stop in the outbound lanes shortly before 8:30 a.m. while most traffic was on the other side, headed into town.

Flight instructor Richard Ruess said he and Allen Mack, who owns the plane, had taken off from Merrill Field minutes earlier, planning to practice takeoffs and landings.

At about 500 feet up, the engine started running rough and then it just quit, Ruess said.

The plane didn't have enough elevation to turn it back around toward Merrill Field, Mack said. "There was a red light at Airport Heights. So we just hopped right on (the Glenn) with a smile," Mack said.

With Ruess at the controls, they glided in.

"We flew over a small car on the right side. You don't have much time. You just do what you're trained to do," Ruess said.

"We had plenty of wing clearance," he said.

Cars pulled over briefly, but traffic wasn't held up much, Symonds said.

The plane "stops on the highway. Both pilots hop out," Symonds said. "It's a tail-dragger. They pick up the tail and pull it into the median, the center divider. Traffic is on its way."

Aircraft mechanic Scott Luce was driving into work on the Glenn when he saw the pilots and their plane. Then his company sent a truck to tow the plane back to Merrill Field.

"You never expect to see an airplane on the highway," Luce said. "They're two very fortunate people. If you go look at it in the light, there's a lot of things they could hit. Telephone poles. There was an overpass."

Mack, 46, a heavy equipment operator on the North Slope, bought the plane in June and has flown for about 30 hours.

When he bought it, it was considered to be in "super, great shape," he said. Luce and he were both mystified about what went wrong, Mack said.

"We looked at one another, and it was like, 'I can't believe this thing. It died,' " Mack said. It had plenty of fuel, he said.

In his own 20,000 hours of flying, Ruess said, this was his first highway landing. But it didn't get him very excited. "Once you're on the ground, I didn't have to kiss the ground or anything."

Mack is a mountain climber and was also unfazed by the incident.

"It was just a regular calm landing," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate, said spokeswoman Joette Storm.

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