MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A single-engine plane landed Wednesday night on Interstate 35W, just south of Interstate 694, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.
The Bellanca Viking made an emergency landing near Arden Hills at about 9:15 p.m., crashing into an SUV on the interstate in the process.
Brittany Yurik was alone in the SUV that was clipped by the single-engine aircraft.
“I saw [the plane] coming at me probably one second before we collided,” Yurik said.
Her car was totaled, yet Yurik walked away unscathed, as did the pilot, 52-year-old Craig Gifford, and his passenger.
“I talked to [Gifford] last night,” Yurik said. “He’s very kind. He was very apologetic. He explained to me what happened, and I just can’t believe we’re all OK. I think he was feeling the same thing.”
Janell Harwell of Itasca was driving on the interstate after visiting a friend in the Twin Cities.
“As I got closer and closer I realized that it was an airplane that actually crashed into a vehicle, and I slammed on my brakes with both feet and stopped in time, thank God,” Harwell said. “When I called 911 and she goes, ‘I’m sorry, you said what?’ I said, ‘An airplane has crashed into a vehicle on the highway.’ And she said, ‘Ma’am an airplane?’ And I said, ‘Yes!’”
She could see Yurik was safe but shaken, but there was no movement from the plane.
“I got out and walked forward maybe five feet or so and I kept yelling, ‘Are you guys OK? Does anybody need help?’ And then the airplane door opened, and the woman and man came out and I literally was just flooded with relief. Like just so glad that they got out of that and was walking away.”
Gifford and his passenger got out of the plane and into her car to stay warm.
“He said, ‘Yeah, we got up in the air and my engines just failed, my engine completely failed on me, and I had to go down wherever it was safest to go down.’ tried so hard not to hit the woman in the SUV. Like, he just, that was his main thing, trying to avoid a car. And so when he hit her he was pretty distraught because he just didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Harwell said. “Like, the bottom of his plane was destroyed, the front was pretty destroyed, the SUV I’m sure is totaled. And to think that three people walked away from that without a scratch on them is just, like someone was sitting on their shoulder last night.”
Dick Knapinski, a fellow pilot with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, knows of Gifford as a highly-skilled and decorated aerobatic flier. He says the emergency landing was well executed and went just how pilots train for them.
“When you’re flying, you start looking around saying, ‘Where am I? If something happens, where am I going to set this airplane down safely?'” Knapinski said. “It’s exactly what this pilot did, and you have to give him kudos for doing everything exactly right to keep that down with no injuries.”
Yurik says situations like that usually end differently, so it’s mind blowing that no one was hurt.
“Not that I would ever wish to get hit by a plane, but out of all the, you know, planes that could’ve hit me, I’m glad it was him,” she said.
Knapinski says pilots are trained to land in the direction of traffic when forced to land on a freeway in an emergency, which Gifford did.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.