What Happens When a Plane Lands in Front of You? Ask The Drive

Funny you should ask...

John Pearley Huffman/TheDrive.com

Q: I saw on Facebook that a plane landed on the freeway in front of you on Monday. After that experience, do you have any advice if a plane lands in front of me on a highway? – J. Pittman, Moorpark, Calif.

A: Yes, that was me. (In a car, not the plane.) Monday afternoon, I behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, driving north on California SR 23 between Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, when a Diamond DA-20 Kitana flew overhead. Low. It then promptly landed on the freeway directly in front of me. It was a clean landing and no one was hurt.

First, this is a rare occurrence. And the Kitana is a very light, small two-seater; if I'd hit it, the Evo would've won handily. It’s likely that this will never happen to you—but it did happen to me.

In the beginning of the video below, the white Mitsubishi I was driving is visible in the far right lane until the frame shifts away from it. Before the plane appeared, I was scoping on that orange BMW 2002.

Watch the video here.

Despite the shock of seeing a plane come down directly in front of us, the drivers around me slowed without panicking and gave the plane plenty of room to land. With a plane this small, it never seemed like anyone except the plane’s occupants was in any danger. If the plane had been a 737, I’m pretty sure things wouldn’t have been so calm, cool and collected.

John Pearley Huffman/TheDrive.com

Just after the plane landed, I grabbed my iPhone and took a few snaps. And that’s where the real lesson here is.

Though most drivers kept on going, I pulled the Evo in behind the plane, got out and was the first person to reach the cockpit. I asked if the two occupants were okay (they were) and then—ding!—I realized that I’m a professional journalist and that a story literally landed in front of me. So I called my friend Suzy Quintero-Chamberlin, an assignment editor at KABC, the ABC affiliate in Los Angeles. And that’s when it became clear I had missed a major professional opportunity.

I blew it by not grabbing my iPhone the moment the plane became visible overhead and shooting some cell phone video. TV stations won’t likely pay for some still shots, but they would have paid for video of a plane landing on a freeway in Southern California. It don’t know how much, but something. Multiple hundreds of dollars could have been involved. Hundreds!

After I identified myself as a journalist, the pilot, unswayed by my charms, wouldn’t talk to me. So that interview didn’t happen. Later on, perhaps after his own shock wore off, he chatted up practically every outlet on Earth.

The California Highway Patrol showed up in a massive fleet of cop Explorers and Crown Vics. Next thing I knew I was being told to leave. “What should I do the next time a plane lands in front of me?” I asked the pre-pubescent CHP officer directing me back into traffic. I don’t know if he heard me or not, but I think he gave a sort of bewildered shoulder shrug.

So if a small plane lands in front of you, remain calm. Slow down. And then, damn it, shoot some video.