SUMMIT PARK, Summit County — After its engine failed, a small passenger plane was forced to make an emergency landing on the I-80 freeway near Jeremy Ranch Saturday evening.
Despite the plane’s engine troubles, the pilot was able to land safely, without sustaining any injuries to himself or his one passenger, without hitting any motorists, and without causing any structural damage to the plane itself.
Utah Highway Patrol trooper Alex Agin called it the “best-case scenario” for an aircraft making an unexpected landing on a freeway.
“It was a landing, it’s not a crash,” he said. “Fortunately, the pilot of the aircraft was able to navigate traffic, find an opening on the eastbound traffic lanes and successfully land it with a disabled engine at hand.”
Jackson Walker, of Idaho Falls, was flying himself and a friend from Idaho Falls to Provo Saturday night when, about an hour-and-a-half into the flight, he noticed the oil pressure in the Cessna 172 aircraft he was piloting had dropped “almost to zero.”
He began looking for alternate places to land, thinking the airport in Heber City might work, when his engine seized and stopped. After trying and failing to restart it multiple times, he knew that he wasn’t going to make it to an airport.
Fortunately, he had decided to travel over I-80, so that in case of an emergency, he would have a place to land.
“I thought … if your engine ever goes out, you want to make sure you’re over a highway,” he said.
“You plan for the worst and you hope it never happens, but in this case it did. And I was glad that I was on I-80 rather than the traffic on I-15, so I tried to keep my speed with the traffic, flash my landing lights several times and just tried to stick with what you train for.”
He stuck the landing and was able to guide his plane down by Jeremy Ranch Golf and Country Club, according to UHP Lt. Colton Freckleton.
“It seemed like the rumble strip was the bumpiest part,” said Walker, who was able to maneuver the plane to an open on-ramp.
Following the landing, he and his passenger were able to exit the plane and push it to the shoulder of the road, out of the way of traffic.
The landing was aided by a Good Samaritan who was driving on the interstate and helped provide adequate space for Walker to land.
“He started swerving to slow down traffic behind us, and that created even more room,” Walker said. “That was just great, just really heads up.”
Walker is a self-described “newly minted private pilot” and only started flying in June — a fact that makes the safe landing even more miraculous.
“I was obviously nervous, but at the same time, just tried to think through what the procedure I’d practiced is when you do your check rides and everything,” he said. “(I) just said a quick prayer and just wanted to get home and make sure that my passenger got home to his baby.”
Despite Walker’s relative inexperience, the engine failure wasn’t a beginner’s mistake, he said, and he is puzzled as to why it happened.
“There will definitely be further investigation as to why the engine failure happened, cause I just got the oil changed yesterday, just trying to be diligent with maintenance and be responsible,” he said. “You try to plan ahead, but things happen.”