November 23, 2013

Low fuel suspected in plane landing on I-295

The FAA will make the final ruling on the cause of the incident at rush hour Thursday in Cumberland.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The airplane pilot who made an emergency landing on Interstate 295 during rush hour Thursday probably ran low on fuel, the plane’s owner said Friday.

click image to enlarge

Sachin Hejaji of Falmouth talks on his phone after landing a Cessna 152 in the southbound lanes of Interstate 295 in Cumberland on Thursday evening. Drivers who saw the plane gliding low apparently slowed down, creating a gap in which he landed safely.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

State police and state transportation officials inspect the small plane that made an emergency landing on I-295 Thursday.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Sachin Hejaji, 42, of Falmouth landed the Cessna 152 safely on the southbound lanes of the highway in Cumberland around 5 p.m. Thursday.

Maine Aviation Corp., which owns the aircraft, is speculating that the problem that forced Hejaji to land was low fuel, said Jim Iacono, the company’s owner. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident and will make the final determination on the cause.

“The aircraft is not damaged. We’re very happy about that,” said Iacono. “We’re even happier that nobody got hurt.”

Hejaji was flying back to Portland from Waterville on Thursday when he lost power in the single engine, two-seat aircraft at about 2,000 feet, he told police. He glided over the southbound traffic, and the drivers who saw him apparently slowed down, creating a gap in which he landed safely without hitting anything, Iacono said.

The emergency landing tied up traffic on the interstate for miles in both directions.

Hejaji, who had leased aircraft from the company previously, left from Portland earlier Thursday, flew to Waterville and then flew back.

Iacono would not say how much fuel was believed to be in the plane’s tank when it left Portland, and said he did not know whether it was refueled in Waterville. He said a full tank of fuel would typically be enough for a round trip to Waterville, which is 78 miles from Portland.

Maine Aviation Corp. owns four planes, which it uses for training and leasing to pilots, he said.

Iacono said every pilot is given a list of items to check, both inside and outside a plane, before taking off, including the fuel supply. He said it is the pilot’s responsibility to make sure there is enough fuel to reach the destination.

Iacono said the Cessna 152 has a very good safety record, as does that particular plane, which was built in 1985.

“This is the first time we’ve had this happen,” he said. “That aircraft has an excellent mechanical history and excellent safety record, as does our company.”

Before leasing a plane, a pilot must fly once with one of the company’s pilots, who makes sure the pilot’s flying skills are adequate, Iacono said.

He spoke highly of Hejaji’s skills.

“He did a fantastic job bringing that plane down in that situation,” Iacono said. “He should be well-regarded for his patience and calmness he exhibited.”

In particular, he said, Hejaji did what pilots are taught to do in that situation: glide straight and don’t try to turn.

Hejaji could not be reached for comment Friday.

After landing on the busy highway in Cumberland, Hejaji taxied for about a half-mile before pulling into the median in Falmouth, about a half-mile north of the Johnson Road overpass.

The plane was later taken on a flatbed trailer to a Maine Department of Transportation maintenance lot in Yarmouth. On Friday morning, Maine Aviation removed the plane’s wings and brought it to its facility at the Portland International Jetport.

More than 2,400 Cessna 152s are registered with the FAA, according to the agency.

According to the Cessna 150-152 Club, the models are among the safest.

“Cessna 150-152s are simple, sturdy airplanes, designed for training pilots,” according to the club’s website. “They do not have complicated engines, propellers, or landing gear, there is simply not much to break on a Cessna 150-152.”

The planes are involved in more accidents than any other small private plane, the club said, because there are far more of them and they are used primarily for training pilots, so inexperience contributes to their accident rate.

The Cessna 152 often is outfitted with a 26-gallon fuel tank, giving it a range of about 350 miles, according to The Ohio State University Center for Aviation Studies.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

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