The pilot of a small plane made an emergency landing Tuesday on Interstate 295 in Bowdoinham, suffering minor injuries along with his passenger and sending drivers scurrying out of the path of the plane as it came to a rest on its nose on top of a guardrail.
Pilot John Gayley and passenger Rodney Voisene went down in the southbound lanes of the interstate at 10:15 a.m.
Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Gayley was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland with injuries to his face, and Voisene was taken to a local hospital with an arm injury.
Gayley was listed in fair condition Tuesday night. Through a hospital spokesman, he declined interview requests.
At the crash scene, Maine State Police Trooper Tyler Harrington said Tuesday morning that the plane – a 1947 fixed-wing, single-engine Cessna 140 registered to Gayley – was headed to Turner when it had engine failure.
Gayley, who has two planes and keeps them at Twitchell’s Airport and Seaplane Base in Turner, had taken off from there Tuesday morning, airport employee Jenn Casey said.
“He left here around 9:15 this morning with his brother-in-law,” Casey said. “John lives in Bowdoin, so he probably flew around there.”
Gayley told troopers that before the emergency landing, he had taken off from a Bowdoinham airfield when the plane stalled as he attempted to switch fuel tanks, according to McCausland.
One driver had to swerve to miss the plane, McCausland said in a statement.
That driver, Charlie O’Connor of Scituate, Massachusetts, said the plane appeared suddenly over the tree line, and by the way it was swerving back and forth, he could tell its pilot was going to try to land.
“It was obvious there was no place for either of us to go,” O’Connor said from his home. “I pulled off onto the left, the shoulder. I went just under the wing. It was no more than a couple of feet.”
While it seemed like an eternity, he said, it was in reality no more than about 10 seconds.
Drivers of two pickup trucks heading south watched the plane fly toward them just over the trees in the median.
“He was just above the trees,” said Daniel Henderson of Winthrop, when Henderson was just south of the Richmond exit. “There were five or six cars and, in a matter of seconds, everybody started moving over and made room for him.”
Lee Gosselin Jr. said he and Kevin Whitten were headed to a job in Harpswell when the emergency landing unfolded in front of them.
“The traffic was coming at him,” said Gosselin, who lives in Manchester. “When he got slowed down, he turned into the guardrail.”
“He touched down right as he was beside me and clipped the guardrail right behind my truck,” Henderson said.
Gosselin and Henderson said they helped the pilot from the plane.
“Fuel was leaking everywhere,” Gosselin said. His first instinct was to get away from the plane, he said, and the fuel was spraying everywhere.
“The pilot told the passenger to turn the fuel off,” Gosselin said. The passenger was able to shut off the fuel and the plane.
Gosselin said Whitten went to direct traffic around the crash site until the state police arrived; traffic was heavy at the time.
“John told us when he took off, he was going to switch over to his second fuel tank but the engine didn’t pick it up,” Gosselin said. “He said he told the passenger, the highway or the trees, and the passenger said the highway.”
Gosselin said Gayley appeared to have a broken nose, and Voisene, also from Bowdoin, had a cut on his head.
Henderson said he stayed until police and firefighters arrived, then rushed off to make his own flight at Portland International Jetport.
O’Connor sat in his sport utility vehicle by the side of the road to collect himself. He said some Maine Department of Transportation employees stopped to check on him, and then he continued his trip home.
“It’s the kind of thing you see on TV,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.
Four years ago, a Cessna landed on Interstate 95, not far from the site of Tuesday’s crash.
Game warden Dan Dufault piloted the aircraft and was accompanied by passenger Charlie Todd, a biologist with the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. The single-propeller plane had taken off about 35 minutes earlier from Belfast Municipal Airport. Its destination was the Auburn/Lewiston Municipal Airport.
Todd had said he and Dufault had been planning to conduct a survey of eagle’s nests when the plane’s troubles disrupted the flight.
The FAA investigation found that the plane – starved of fuel because of pilot error – had stalled.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards contributed to this report.
Jessica Lowell — 621-5632