A single-engine airplane running low on fuel made an emergency landing in the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 near Wyoming, Minn., in Chisago County late Friday, leading authorities to close down the highway for a couple of hours.
The pilot, who was unable to find Cambridge Municipal Airport in the dark, suffered only minor injuries and was not hospitalized, authorities said. No one else was hurt.
The plane came down on the freeway near County Road 22 just after 10 p.m., striking a light pole and coming to rest in a ditch. All lanes in both directions of the interstate, which was especially busy Friday with holiday weekend travelers, were closed to traffic for a couple of hours.
No vehicles were struck by the plane as it came down, but there were several witnesses.
"It's just fortunate nobody else was involved," State Patrol Sgt. Troy Christianson said. "Traffic was delayed for a little bit, but that's pretty minimal for what could have happened."
Wyoming police initially notified motorists to avoid I-35 between the city and Stacy. One lane of northbound traffic reopened at 11:45 p.m., and all lanes were later opened. The aircraft was towed to Forest Lake around midnight for inspection by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The pilot, Leonard Nolden, 79, of Isanti, registered the small SportCruiser plane in 2007. Reached by phone Saturday, Nolden declined to comment other than to say that he was OK.
In emergency situations, pilots are taught to first look for a flat, open field on which to put the plane down. At night, fields are impossible to see, so Nolden would be right to shoot for a lighted road such as I-35, said Robert Katz, a 35-year commercial pilot and flight instructor based in Dallas. However, attempting to land on a busy highway holds the real risk of hitting a vehicle and endangering others.
"It's a miracle that he's alive," Katz said.