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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Mark Thorn's airplane sits just off I-15 in Lehi between the southbound freeway lanes and the offramp to Alpine.

LEHI — A small plane crashed next to I-15 Wednesday, critically injuring the pilot.

Mark Thorn, 52, of Sandy, was alone in the 1960 Beechcraft Bonanza, said Patrick Loturco, who co-owns the plane with Thorn.

"He's a real estate agent," Loturco told the Deseret News. "He called me this morning and told me he was going … there for business. He went and got checked out in the plane, so he's fully certified to fly it."

Thorn avoided hitting any vehicles and maneuvered the plane through a narrow strip of land near the Alpine freeway offramp.

The crash occurred shortly after 2 p.m., just west of the southbound freeway lanes near Thanksgiving Point.

The plane left St. George about 12:30 p.m. and was headed to somewhere in Salt Lake County, said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeff Nigbur.

Mike Frandsen was driving his vehicle north on I-15 when he saw the plane coming from the south.

"I couldn't see any smoke or fire, but he was obviously trying to land. He came down fast," Frandsen said. "It looked like he tried to level it out, but he just leaned to the west."

Frandsen then lost sight of the plane because it went down the steep embankment.

A Life Flight helicopter was sent to the scene and transported Thorn to Intermountain Medical Center in critical condition with severe head injuries, Nigbur said. IMC officials said Wednesday night he was being treated for multiple trauma injuries.

The plane hit an embankment when it crashed, then spun around but remained upright. Its nose, now facing south, was crumpled, the windshield was smashed and the left wing damaged. Scattered fragments of the fuselage could be seen along the embankment.

"Right now, it looks like he did an outstanding job" by landing on the narrow strip instead of in traffic, Nigbur said.

UHP officials were worried about the traffic backup continuing through the afternoon rush hour.

Contributing: Geoff Liesik

e-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com