DEL MAR, Calif. (KGTV) — A small aircraft has been towed from Interstate 5 in the Del Mar area after it was forced to make an emergency landing on Tuesday afternoon, prompting an hours-long closure that backed up traffic.
The aircraft, a single-engine Piper PA-32, landed on Interstate 5 near Via De La Valle just after 12 p.m. and came to rest against the center freeway divider, according to CHP officer Jim Bettancourt.
According to officials, the pilot and his passenger took off from Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa and were flying over La Jolla, when the plane started having mechanical trouble. The pilot tried to land in a nearby field but was unable to make a landing.
As the plane landed on the freeway, it clipped four cars, officials told ABC 10News.
"We basically broke the fall for the plane. Like it landed on the back of the car and then I think it must of like spun around because the car back there has like a wing in it," said Sarah Tribett, who was in a vehicle struck by the landing aircraft. The impact shattered the vehicle's back window and covered them in fuel. "We heard it and felt it everywhere. Like it shattered back there all the way into the front seats. It was all over us like I had glass in my mouth.
"Our backseat is soaked in jet fuel. All my clothes and everything back there are drenched."
A wing of the plane was lodged into one vehicle. A woman and young child in that vehicle were taken to a nearby hospital for observation. Both were dosed with fuel as well.
Both the pilot and passenger were not injured. CHP said "several occupants of the vehicles struck" sustained minor injuries and were taken to a nearby hospital.
Update to plane crash on 5 fwy https://t.co/u8PHbNvm1z— Mary McKenzie 10News (@10NewsMaryMac) August 24, 2021
Courtney Wood, who was driving on I-5 at the time, watched the events play out in real-time.
"I was wondering if it was a plane and then it was getting lower and lower. Then I see some smoke or debris," Wood said, adding that she spoke with the pilot briefly afterward. "He just said that the engine gave out and he didn't know what else to do."
The pilot and passenger declined requests to speak with media following the landing.
In a statement, the FAA confirmed it is investigating the incident:
"A single-engine Piper PA-32 landed on southbound Interstate 5 near Via de la Valle in San Diego, Calif., around 12:13 p.m. local time today. There were two people onboard. The FAA will release the aircraft tail number after investigators verify it at the scene. The FAA will investigate. The agency does not identify people involved in aircraft accidents or incidents. We will provide additional updates as we get them."
Caltrans San Diego advised motorists to avoid the area. All southbound lanes and the northbound HOV and #1 lanes were immediately closed and traffic was diverted off Lomas Santa Fe Dr. As of 5 p.m., all lanes on both sides of the freeway had been reopened in the area.
The plane was towed back to Montgomery Field later Tuesday.