Pilot and passenger unharmed after plane lands on I-5 near Del Mar

A pilot of a small plane who was experiencing mechanical problems made an emergency landing Tuesday afternoon on Interstate 5 near the Del Mar exhibition center.

The pilot and passenger of the Piper PA-32 single-engine aircraft were not injured, but two people in vehicles struck by the aircraft sustained minor injuries, according to California Highway Patrol spokesperson the Officer Sal Castro and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Paramedics took the two to hospitals. Their injuries included shallow cuts from broken glass, according to José Ysea, spokesperson for the San Diego Fire Department.

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

Sarah Tribett and her husband, who had come from Texas to celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary, were driving south on the freeway in a rented Kia sedan when suddenly the car’s rear window shattered.

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

Tribett and her husband “were scared to death” at first, but then felt grateful that she hadn’t been hurt. She said people in vehicles behind her told the couple that their rental car “actually interrupted the fall” of the plane.

“They came after and told us the plane landed in the back of our car and then kind of rolled over and hit a few more,” Tribett said. “Obviously we couldn’t see it. “

She said the pilot and passenger of the plane came later to apologize.

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

The pilot attempted to land in a nearby dirt field, but was unable to do so and instead landed the aircraft on the highway. He came to rest with his nose and part of his left wing hanging above the midline.

“Fortunately, these are minor injuries and no one suffered any serious injuries or even fatal injuries,” Castro said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, which hampered traffic as authorities closed all lanes of the I-5 in both directions. Authorities gradually reopened the lanes throughout the day, with the last closed lanes reopening around 5 p.m.

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

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