JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A pilot and his passenger are safe on the ground after an emergency landing put them on Interstate 10. According to the pilot, an engine failure was to blame for turning I-10 into a temporary landing strip.
Private pilot Rodney McKnight, Jr. said he took off from Auburn, Alabama, flying a Cessna 150 with the owner sitting in the passenger seat. His original destination was Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. That changed once the engine stopped at 3,500 feet.
"While I'm flying, I'm troubleshooting trying to figure out what it is, what's going on. Maybe it's my fault? Something I touched? Something like that? But nope, turned out the engine just wasn't putting out its power," said McKnight.
So, McKnight said his first thought was safety. Safety for him and his passenger, and safety for those on the ground. He had to figure out where he could land. He was hoping for Mobile.
"I said Gulfport, I don't think I'm going to make Mobile. I'm going to put this thing down on the road. And they go, 'Are you declaring an emergency?' And that's when I went back to Gulfport and said, 'Affirmative. I'm declaring an emergency,'" McKnight recalled.
From that point, McKnight said his skills as a pilot were tested to the extreme. But, he was relying on more than just himself to land safely.
"Let's just hope that the people in the cars can see what's happening and then adjust their actions accordingly," he said.
According to McKnight, the plane still had enough lift to coast safely to the edge of the interstate without incident.
"Dodging light poles and power lines. Traffic was worked out to where I could land in front of and behind cars. It worked out perfectly," said McKnight.
Sarah Washburn was driving on I-10 when she spotted the plane flying down low in front of her. Washburn is from Texas where it's crop dusting season, so low flying planes aren't an unusual sight to her. What caught her attention was how the pilot moved the plane's wings.
"He started going up and down, up and down like I need to land instead of flipping back around and turning around. So it kind of gave all of us a heads up to all us cars, and we all started putting on our brakes," Washburn recalled.
"So then he kind of landed about five cars in front of us, and we're all still going like 20-30 miles per hour. Everybody put their hazard lights on and slowed down to almost his speed when he hit the highway blacktop and bounced a little bit, and then headed off to the right of the shoulder. Just landed that thing just perfect... I was pretty proud of him."
Not only was the plane's landing flawless, none of the vehicles on the road had a problem getting out of the way. It's a happy ending, and an exciting start to Washburn's vacation. She kept driving, headed to Florida.
"We were just coming on, crossing the state line and I saw wow, Mississippi was crazy. I wonder what Alabama has got next? How are they going to top that?" Washburn laughed.
According to Rodney McKnight Jr's Linkedin page, he's employed as a Ground Instructor at MzeroA.com. Even the shirt he was wearing Monday seemed to have a prophetic message. It read, "Keep calm and land on the centerline."