A single-engine plane crash-landed in traffic on I-15 Wednesday shortly after the pilot had taken off from a private air strip at his home in Draper about 9:30 a.m.
The mishap is the second crash landing in Salt Lake County in three days.Brett Fitzgerald, 31, had taken off from the strip at his home at 203 E. 13800 South when the plane lost fuel pressure and the engine stalled. The pilot quickly maneuvered over I-15 and brought the plane down between cars in southbound traffic. The force of the impact collapsed the landing gear, sending the plane skidding on its belly along the right lane 352 feet before it stopped, said Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Garth F. Toone.
Flames were spreading from under the plane's engine cowling as Fitzgerald stumbled out and got away from the wreck, eyewitnesses said. Two motorists with fire extinguishers quickly doused the blaze while other motorists stopped to help and notified the UHP using mobile phones.
R.J. Snow, vice president of student life at Brigham Young University, was traveling south when he saw the plane take off east of the freeway. "I was a little surprised because it looked like he was just climbing out of a field," he said. "He seemed to level off and then he veered over toward the highway. Then I kind of lost him temporarily . . . then I could see his prop had stopped and could see he was coming toward the highway. I could see he was trying to land on the freeway. I sped up a little because I could see he was going faster than I was."
By then, the plane was only about 50 feet above the road, Snow said. "I thought he was right on top of me, then he came down real hard and slammed down into the concrete."
Once the plane skidded to a stop, "Flames started to come out of the front of it immediately. As I ran toward the plane he opened the door and stumbled out and moved toward the back of the plane. He was obviously in discomfort but he was able to move on his own."
The quick action of two other motorists kept the flames from spreading to gasoline tanks in the wings or to the oil spilled along the road during the crash landing. "Both drivers, as if they had been prepared, jumped out with fire extinguishers and ran over. One of them got across and started to put out the flames and it was immediately effective."
Fitzgerald's cousin, Nephi Fitzgerald, was driving north along the frontage road east of the freeway when he recognized the plane and drove to the family's home to see what he could do to help. The UHP had just called the home, and he took the pilot's mother, Helen, to the crash site.
The ambulance was still at the scene when she arrived. "He said `I'm OK, Mom.' He said `My back's hurting' and that the motor had just quit after he got off the end of the runway."
The pilot has been flying since he was 17, had just earned his commercial pilot rating and had been in St. George Tuesday applying for a job as a commercial pilot.
The pilot was taken by ambulance to Alta View Hospital for treatment. He was listed in satisfactory condition .
On Monday, a flight instructor and student pilot in a Cessna C-150 walked away from a forced landing in a South Jordan field just before noon one mile east of U-111 near 11600 South after their aircraft lost power and the engine stalled.