Plane Makes Emergency Landing on San Jose Expressway

It's not something you see everyday when traveling near the Eastridge Mall in San Jose.

Just before 8 a.m. on Thursday, a single-wing, fixed engine airplane with some sort of engine trouble made an emergency landing on a busy San Jose expressway, just after takeoff from the Reid-Hillview Airport.

The pilot and student aboard the training flight weren't hurt and the Bellanca Citabria 7ECA, registered to a flight school, wasn't damaged.

Zdravko Podolski, the owner of AeroDynamic Aviation flight school, which owns the plane, told NBC Bay Area the plane started sputtering about 100 feet after takeoff as the engine lost power for an unknown reason.

The instructor then took over controls from the student flying the plane and "nursed the plane along" so that the plane could land safely on a busy thoroughfare, Podolski said. The traffic lights on Capitol Expressway between Quimby and Tully roads gave the pilot a wide open space to land, without striking the nearby utility poles lining the road.

"No, this doesn't happen every day," Podolski said. "We train for this all the time, but it rarely happens."

Podolski said a mechanic will be "ripping apart" the plane to figure out what went wrong - his best guess was something in the engine malfunctioned, and this was not a case of human error. The plane was built in 1975, and Podolski said the plane is regularly inspected.

The pilot has more than 3,000 flying hours under his belt, Podolski said, and the student has about 30 to 40 hours. He credited the pilot for "doing the right thing."

"I think this says a lot about pilot training," said Michael Laccabue, a pilot and flight instructor at the San Carlos Flight Center,  who also flies out of Reid-Hillview Airport. "Especially with so many crashes, like Asiana. This pilot made a successful landing without hurting anyone." On July 6, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed at San Francisco International Airport, killing two and injuring 182 others. A third teenage girl died later, after she was run over by a fire truck at the scene.

PHOTOS: Small Plane Lands on Capitol Expressway

The safe landing  in San Jose did pose a curious sight as motorists cruised by on their way to work. Drivers honked and some yelled out of their cars how odd a small green plane in the middle of the road looked. Many tooted that they were happy there were no injuries.

"It's crazy," Fidel Aguirre said of the unusual sight.

"It blocked my right turn," Andrew Yambao said. "But as long as everyone is safe, that's good." 

NBC Bay Area's chopper flew overhead, and despite the plane being parked for a while at a busy intersection, cars were able to drive past, seemingly, with little slowdown. The plane was towed away about 9 a.m., an hour after the landing.

RAW VIDEO: Traffic Keeps Moving After Small Plane Lands on Road

This is not the first emergency landing or crash near this airport. In 2007, a single-engine Cessna headed for Hayward crashed next to the Eastridge Mall. No one was seriously injured in that crash, which left the white plane sitting atop some trees in the mall parking lot.

As far as this landing goes, Podolski said there's a little joke in the flying world: "When a pilot can walk away from a landing, we call that a good landing. If you can use the plane again, that's a great landing."

NBC Bay Area's  Dan Pyryt, Alan Waples, Kim Tere, Caitlin Matalone and Tim Bollinger contributed to this report.

Contact Us