April 27, 2013

Plane lands on Maine Turnpike after engine failure

Warden Dan Dufault sets the Cessna down in a surprisingly good place to land a plane.

Staff video by Joe Phelan

By CRAIG CROSBY Kennebec Journal

LITCHFIELD — Soaring over treetops and touching down on the Maine Turnpike with few cars in sight, a Cessna plane piloted by a game warden appeared unscathed after its engine died Friday morning during a planned survey of eagle nests.

Staff video by Craig Crosby A Warden Service plane takes off from Interstate 95.

click image to enlarge

A Cessna plane owned by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made an emergency landing this morning at a rest area off Interstate 95 in Litchfield. No one was injured, police said.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Staff graphic by Sharon Wood

Additional Photos Below

A few startled drivers apparently suffered the only collateral damage when the plane made an emergency landing on Interstate 95.

No one was injured during the landing, which occurred about 8:50 a.m. on the northbound lanes of I-95 near an old rest area at mile marker 98. The single-propeller plane had taken off about 35 minutes earlier from Belfast Municipal Airport. Its destination was the Auburn/Lewiston Municipal Airport.

The plane, a 1968 Cessna 172, remained parked in the rest area parking lot for about 2.5 hours before it was refueled and flown to the nearby Augusta State Airport.

Game warden Dan Dufault piloted the aircraft and was accompanied by passenger Charlie Todd, a biologist with the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.

Durward Humphrey, the chief pilot for the warden service, said the plane suffered a mechanical problem that has not been identified yet, killing its engine power. He said the plane would be inspected before returning to service.

“The engine failed and quit,” Humphrey said. “It’s still under investigation.”

A Maine Turnpike Authority traffic alert initially reported Friday morning that the plane had landed because of an empty fuel tank, and Sgt. Jason Luce of the Maine Warden Service also initially said that the plane had “a fuel issue.” But Humphrey disputed those reports and suggested the plane’s top trouble was mechanical.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a prepared statement that it will investigate the landing and that preliminary information suggested the plane “experienced a mechanical problem.”

“The extent of damage to the aircraft, if any, has not been determined yet,” FAA officials wrote.

Dufault would not comment on the incident while he was at the landing scene.

Shortly before the plane took off from the highway, wardens directed news media members to the far end of the rest area parking lot before positioning their trucks — and a sport-utility vehicle being used by a film crew for the Animal Planet series “North Woods Law” — in front of the plane, blocking the news gatherers’ view.

Wardens still could be seen dumping several containers of fuel into the tank spouts, which were atop the plane’s wings.

“Fuel was a concern,” Humphrey said. “That’s why we added fuel.”

Moments later, Maine State Police troopers closed both of the highway’s northbound lanes. The plane taxied about a quarter-mile south, turned and sped north before lifting off into the clear blue sky and disappearing from view. Humphrey piloted the plane to the Augusta airport.

“In my 16 years, it’s the first time they’ve landed a plane on the interstate,” Maine State Police Trooper Lee Vanadestine said at the scene.

Dan Morin, spokesman for the Maine Turnpike Authority, said the interstate — at least in the Litchfield area — is a surprisingly good spot to land a plane. It’s about a 10-minute drive on the highway south of Augusta and 20 minutes north of Lewiston, and most northbound traffic takes the more direct route of Interstate 295 instead of the turnpike.

“It’s one of the less traveled areas of the turnpike,” Morin said. “I’m glad it was in Litchfield and not Biddeford. Other than a few startled drivers, there was no impact.”

Andy Perry, a highway supervisor with the Maine Turnpike Authority who stopped at the rest area Friday morning, said the only other plane he could recall landing on the interstate did so about 30 years ago in the Gray area.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

A Cessna plane owned by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made an emergency landing this morning at a rest area off Interstate 95 in Litchfield. No one was injured, police said.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

The Maine Turnpike tweeted this photo of the scene Friday morning.


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