It happened around 12:38 p.m. Monday when 18-year-old Landon Lucas was flying for Paramount Air Service and skillfully executed an emergency landing on the normally busy Route 52 causeway in Ocean City, New Jersey.
“I was just sitting there listening to music and having my morning coffee,” he said. “The next thing you know, I was like, ‘Holy crap, I’m gonna go in the ocean.'”
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He says he was making a second banner run in Atlantic City when his J-3 Piper Cub suffered complete engine failure.
“Immediately, I see my altimeter rolling down,” he said.
He immediately went through the engine failure checklist.
“What was going wrong was the engine was starved of fuel from the airbox that was falling off,” he said.
At this point, Lucas said he was four to five miles from the Ocean City Municipal Airport and a mile north of the Route 52 Causeway, also known as the 9th Street Bridge, which connects Somers Point and Ocean City. So he had to think fast.
“I had no option,” he said. “She’s going down, one way or another. I had the option of the water or the bridge, and I see a gap in traffic, I’m going for it.”
Lucas, who completed several certifications from Choice Aviation in Cody, Wyoming, had been trained in a lot of things — but landing on a bridge was not one of them. He went for it anyway.
“I was able to get above the cars, and I just shoot down in front of them and just basically put it into a flare right in front of them,” he said. “All the cars behind me, they’re just seeing an airplane land on the road. I got lucky.”
He landed the plane with no damage to the aircraft and no injury to himself or any drivers.
One of the first people he called was his mother, Rita Lucas, who lives in Wyoming. He texted a picture to her of his plane on the bridge with a police car behind it.
She says she couldn’t believe it when he told her about the accident.
“‘Mom, you might want to check out the news. I had a little situation today,'” she recalled him saying. “He wasn’t upset one bit.”
Drivers and bystanders heading into the city took pictures of the unusual sight.
“I was riding back to my house, all of a sudden I see a plane going lower and lower and I could hear it,” witness Daniel Lepone said. “I heard a loud boom and the propeller, and it was really loud, and I could see it just drift down slowly. It was pretty scary.”
After going through something like that, some pilots may call it quits. Not Lucas.
“I’m going up (Wednesday) morning at 11 a.m.,” he said. “With another banner, possibly the same one.”
Officials managed to recover the $6,000 banner that was released before the emergency landing.
The FAA and NTSB are still investigating the incident.
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