Pilot uses turnpike as emergency landing strip

LITCHFIELD — Randall Greenleaf said it was the sudden silence that caught his attention Friday morning.

Scott Taylor/Sun Journal

A Maine Warden Service plane waits for refueling at a former service area on the Maine Turnpike near Litchfield on Friday. The pilot landed on the highway after the plane ran out of fuel. No one was hurt.

Greenleaf, who lives some 600 feet from the former Maine Turnpike service plaza in Litchfield, was the first one on the scene Friday morning when a Maine Warden Service Cessna was forced to use the turnpike as an impromptu landing strip, possibly after running out of fuel.

No one was injured. Greenleaf said he watched the plane land neatly between two vehicles in the turnpike's northbound lane and pull into the abandoned service plaza.

"I came running up and saw the two warden service guys standing beside it, talking on the telephone," he said. "I was awful glad to see it on its wheels. I'm glad nobody was hurt."

Greenleaf said he was working in his driveway just after 9 a.m. when he saw the airplane go over his house, bank into the wind and go below the trees.

"I heard the engine quit, and then I heard the sound of the wind over the wings," Greenleaf said. "It was just a 'shhh' sound from the wings as it drifted overhead."

Greenleaf grabbed his phone and ran toward the turnpike, expecting the worst.

"Nobody wants to be the first one on the scene of an accident," Greenleaf said. "I was really worried that I was not going to be prepared for what I was going to find. I was expecting to find a crashed airplane. I didn't know if he got down OK or if he got hit by a car. I was expecting to see blood and guts."

State Rep. Christine Powers of Naples said she was traveling northbound when she saw the plane flying low across the turnpike before landing ahead of her.

"I thought it was strange the way it was gliding. The next thing I saw, it was coming in for an approach," she said. "I was quite stunned."

About a half-dozen vehicles were in the vicinity, Powers said, and one motorist pulled over as the plane touched down and approached the vehicle.

The warden service's top officer, Col. Joel Wilkinson, said an investigation will look at a variety of factors. Noting that the airplane was able to take off again from the interstate after refueling, Wilkinson acknowledged it's "highly likely" the airplane had lost power after running out of fuel.

The plane is listed by the Federal Aviation Administration as a fixed-wing, single-engine 1968 Cessna registered to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

It was flown by Maine Warden Service pilot Dan Dufault and was carrying biologist Charlie Todd from Belfast to Lewiston-Auburn to do research on eagles.

Warden service officials and state police at the site declined to comment as they worked to get the plane's fuel tank filled and the plane back in the air. Warden Service Chief Pilot Durward Humphrey was called to the scene and was able to get it running.

State police closed the turnpike's northbound lane at about 11:15 a.m. just south of the abandoned service plaza and the plane taxied back on to the road.

Humphrey taxied south on the turnpike several hundred feet, turned around and took off heading north, back to Augusta for inspection.

Greenleaf said the wardens didn't appear to be shaken by the ordeal.

"But they did look embarrassed," Greenleaf said. "If I was flying an airplane, I'd like to land with a couple of gallons left in the tank. Everybody was talking about what a great pilot he is. Well, that seems to the first thing a great pilot does — make sure you have enough fuel."

staylor@sunjournal.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Comments

Out of fuel

Are you kidding me... yes I would think that fuel would be checked before anyone takes off in a plane.. I am glad that people driving their cars were not shoved off the road because of this pilot..he should be embarrassed..

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