FORT MEADE, Md. - The pilot who successfully landed a small plane along a highway during rush hour is recounting his experience to FOX 5.
The incident happened last Friday on Route 50 in Annapolis at around 3 p.m.
Christopher Curry, 32, told FOX 5 his sons, 4 and 8, got out of school early that day so he decided to take them up for a flight to see the fall foliage.
“I love doing fun things with them,” said Curry.
He has had his pilot’s license since he was 19. Curry also flew Harrier Jets in the Marine Corps.
It was about 40 minutes into the flight from Tipton Airport in Fort Meade when things started to go wrong. Curry noticed a slight shudder in the engine compartment. As he turned back toward the closest runway at Lee Airport in Edgewater, the nose of the plane started vibrating violently and the cabin filled with smoke.
He was still 14 miles from the airport, but Curry knew the plane wouldn’t go that far at that altitude, so he began to look for a safe landing space.
“I see a landfill there,” explained Curry. “I see some machinery, some people working and it is uneven terrain so I am thinking that is not going to work. And I am looking at the highway right there. [I realize] it’s either the trees or the highway. And the trees, the airplane will probably break apart and crumble up.”
But the highway was packed with rush hour drivers.
“I am looking at my airspeed to make sure I don’t fall out of the sky,” added Curry. “I am looking at the lanes and I see an off-ramp that has just enough room for me to set the plane down.”
It was a gamble.
“For all I know we could be knocked out cold as soon as we impact the ground, or a car could come out of the bend and hit us,” said Curry.
In avoiding the cars, Curry clipped a light pole and guardrail, which whipped them around and tore off the wings. The cockpit remained intact.
“I kind of had my instinctive parental driver arm kind of come down over my son’s chest,” added Curry. “We stop. I look back. The boys are okay. They are not crying. No one seemed completely freaked out. I’m like, ‘Hey, we’re alive!’”
Curry said during the ordeal, he talked his 8-year-old son through the process to keep him calm. His 4-year-old slept in the back.
“I am just so thankful to everyone who ran over and helped us,” said Curry. “They were all so nice. They gave my sons jackets to keep them warm.”
Despite the close call, Curry and his sons say they will fly again, after taking a break.
The Federal Aviation Administration is still investigating what went wrong with the plane, which is a single-engine Socata TB200.