Pilot lauded by peers after emergency 407 landing
Published Saturday, October 9, 2010 6:58PM EDT
A small white plane parked at Markham's Buttonville airport was the centre of attention on Saturday, after a pilot successfully landed the single-engine aircraft on Highway 407 following an engine failure Friday night.
Authorities closed a section of the toll road near Highway 404 and Woodbine Avenue for several hours after the single-engine plane touched down in the westbound lanes shortly after 10 p.m.
The 1974 Piper PA28 151 Warrior plane landed just under two kilometres south of Markham's Buttonville airport.
Miraculously, no one was injured in the dramatic incident.
Ontario Provincial Police said the pilot was returning from flying in the area of Lindsay, Ont., when he encountered some mechanical difficulties during his final approach.
Ontario police said there was plenty of gas in the plane, but a mechanical malfunction had stopped it from reaching the engine.
The man declared an emergency and landed on Hwy. 407, avoiding an overhead sign and hydro wires that both spanned the highway.
"There are wires across there, there are traffic signs that arch over the highway. He came in, it would appear, over top of one of the overpasses and underneath one of those signs; a pretty tricky bit of work," Rae Simpson, from the Transportation Safety Board, told CTV News. "I think he was both very fortunate and skillful in getting it down."
Pilots at Buttonville airport were similarly impressed with the feat. Jeff Kehoe said it was obvious the pilot had followed his training and instincts to ensure he landed safely and without causing any accidents.
"I think he did what he was supposed to do. He found the best available place to land the plane. I'm sure he took safety into consideration, he did what every pilot does in those situations," said Kehoe."
"If he was able to put it down in the dark on the 407, it's a really great job," said another pilot, Ralph Gaston.
A car and a Go Transit bus were nearby at the time of the landing; both pulled to the side of the road and avoided a collision.
The plane was eventually towed to Buttonville airport and the highway was re-opened shortly after 1 a.m.
"I can honestly say in my career I've never responded to a call like this and I'm not sure too many of the officers here tonight have either," OPP Const. Peter Leon told reporters Friday night.
The pilot, Robert Fijalkowski, a 10-year veteran, has avoided speaking publicly since the incident. But his wife said she was relieved that he was OK.
"We are very fortunate that nothing more serious happened, that nobody got hurt. We just need to catch our breath and not even think about that," she told CTV News.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Michelle Dube