Pilot plans to fly again after I-540 landing
Posted March 29
Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh pilot who landed his plane on Interstate 540 near Leesville Road Tuesday morning said the experience is not going to keep him from flying in the future.
No injuries were reported Tuesday morning when William Woody's single-engine airplane made what authorities called a "textbook" emergency landing on I-540 in north Raleigh.
According to radio traffic between Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Woody,, the plane had no oil pressure shortly after taking off from RDU at about 8:51 a.m.
RDU cleared Woody to fly back to the airport. Three minutes later, at 8:54, Woody declared an emergency. A minute after that, he told officials he had lost the engine and would not make it back to the runway.
"I wound up informing the tower that I would be unable to make the runway, declared an emergency, and told them I was going to have to put it down on the highway," Woody said.
Just before 9 a.m., commuters on westbound I-540 saw the plane land off the shoulder of the highway.
"I'm coming down fairly slowly so from their perspective, I'm sure what they saw was an airplane kind of descending in front of them," Woody said.
Woody was not hurt, according to RDU. The plane was a 1975 Piper Arrow, a single-engine plane registered to Woody.
Woody, who has been flying for about three years, said he woke up Tuesday morning intending to go on a practice flight to Virginia and then return home.
"I just had a bunch of repairs done on the airplane and figured it's a nice day to go for a flight," he said.
As the plane began to experience issues, Woody said he was able to remain calm and focus on the procedures he learned during the training to obtain his pilot's license. As he approached I-540, he said his main focus was on maintaining the correct speed and lining the plane up with the road for a safe landing. One of the most important lessons Woody recalled was that, in the event of a highway landing, a pilot should lower the plane slowly so drivers have time to react.
"I wasn't thinking about the drivers because I trusted that if I'm coming in about the same speed as the drivers are driving, that they'll be able to see me and I'm trusting the training to put me on the ground safely," he said. "An emergency landing is not a sudden drop. I mean, you're gently coming down and so I'm sure the drivers had plenty of time to react."
Woody said that many drivers told him they saw the plane approaching the interstate and slowed down or stopped to make room for him.
"I'm very fortunate that they did that because it could have been a lot worse," Woody said.
After the plane landed, many drivers also exited their vehicles to make sure Woody wasn't hurt.
Eric Curry, with Wake County's emergency management department, said Woody was sitting on the wing of the plane when emergency responders arrived at the scene.
"According to the firemen, they credit the pilot for making such a difficult landing without causing any harm or injuries," Curry said. "This was a textbook landing."
Woody said the plane landed on the road before sliding sideways into the grassy shoulder. Authorities said there were no fuel leaks following the incident.
Authorities shut down the westbound lanes of I-540 following the incident. The highway was cleared at about 2:15 p.m.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport officials tweeted about the incident, saying that local law enforcement agencies were assisting with the investigation. Air traffic at the airport, which is in Morrisville, was not affected.
Andrew Sawyer, a spokesman for RDU, said airport emergency responded to the scene to assist local law enforcement agencies. He said the Federal Aviation Administration would investigate the cause of the plane's problems and then remove the plane from the shoulder of I-540.
Sawyer said that could happen as early as Tuesday afternoon.
"The aircraft will be removed and take back to the airport," he said.
Woody said that authorities told him there is a chance the airplane could be repaired and flown again.
"If I can get her back, I intend to keep flying," he said.