Pilot makes safe emergency landing on busy highway

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 29, 2003

Something fortunately not seen every day in Butler County is a plane using a highway for a landing strip. But that's exactly what residents along U.S. Hwy. 31 witnessed Thursday morning when a plane was forced to make an emergency landing right in front of their homes.

Bob Ocasio took off from London, Ky., at about 7 a.m. CST bound for the Greenville Airport, but miles from the runway his engine died on him and he was forced to put-down prematurely.

&uot;I had a smooth ride until the engine got quiet,&uot; Ocasio said. &uot;So I decided to put her down on the highway. As I was coming in I didn't see much traffic so I thought it would be a pretty good opportunity.&uot;

Ocasio, a consultant for Image Entry of Georgiana, said he lost power a few miles north of town at 3,000 feet and basically became a glider. He was able to coast down and land on Hwy. 31, narrowly avoiding two sets of power lines running across the road.

He did hit a cable-TV line, however, cutting it with the plane's propeller and setting the utility poll afire.

&uot;After landing I saw an 18-wheeler come over the ridge headed for me," he said. "He saw me and slammed on breaks and I just steered off the road. Other than that it was a pretty uneventful landing.&uot;

&uot;I just ran out of fuel,&uot; he said. &uot;I filled up with 38 gallons of fuel this morning which should have lasted me four and a half hours. I burned more fuel than I planned on using. I should have had about another 20 minutes of fuel left, but in hindsight, I shouldn't have cut it so close.&uot;

Sheriff Diane Harris and several deputies arrived on the scene minutes after the landing.

The initial plan was to refuel the plane and for Ocasio to take off, using Hwy. 31 as a runway, and land at the airport. Fuel was brought in from the airport, but when Ocasio tried to start the engine, it was apparent that the engine was damaged.

&uot;You have to be a good pilot to do what he did,&uot; Sheriff Harris said. &uot;He's very lucky&uot;

Since the plane couldn't fly, Harris brought in a flatbed wrecker from Lowery Towing, loaded the plane on it and hauled it to the airport.

&uot;You learn real quick to keep your head on when things go wrong up there,&uot; he said. &uot;I've been flying since 1995 and still consider it one of the safest ways to travel.&uot;