SAN DIEGO – When his single-engine plane ran out of gas, 48-year-old Ken Gheysar did the first thing that popped into his head: He landed on a Southern California freeway.
Luckily, it was almost midnight on a Sunday and traffic was light on the southbound lanes of Interstate 15 in Escondido, north of San Diego.
The seasoned pilot said he guided his 1968 Piper down as soon as he spotted an opening. His wife and two cousins did not breathe a word while he focused on what needed to be done.
"I found a spot that didn't have cars right underneath me and went for it," he said. "You don't have too much choice, because you can't go back up."
Once they were on the ground, Gheysar said he rolled the plane over to the right-hand shoulder to get it out of the way as much as possible.
No cars were hit and no one was injured. Gheysar said he was amazed to see traffic continued to flow in the far lane.
"Basically it was just a quick reaction," Gheysar told The Associated Press, as he worked on getting the plane towed from the freeway Monday. "The fuel ran out and there was not much time, and there was not much else to do. Can I call you back? I've got some important calls I need to take about moving my plane."
A Dodge Dakota later clipped one of the plane's wings. Gheysar said it appeared the driver was pulling over to check out the plane with its flashing lights, and maybe misjudged the length of the wings. The driver could not be reached for comment. The motorist was not injured and his truck suffered minor damage.
California Highway Patrol Officer Jim Bettencourt said the pickup was one of only about two vehicles on the highway at the time.
"Wouldn't you know it, the one lone car out there on the highway just happened to clip his wing," Bettencourt said. "It caused enough damage that we couldn't just get him gas and fly him out of there."
Bettencourt said motorists were leaning out of their windows, snapping pictures with their cellphones at the unusual site.
"It wasn't chaotic," Bettencourt said. "It was a pretty normal scene, as if it were just a vehicle that had run out of gas and pulled over to the shoulder. I'm just thankful no one was injured."
Authorities later moved the craft to an off-ramp. It was towed to a lot to be repaired later that afternoon.
It was the second emergency landing by a plane on a San Diego County freeway over the weekend. A 74-year-old pilot who reported having engine problems shortly after takeoff landed on state Route 67 in Santee on Saturday. No one was injured. A highway patrol officer spotted the plane landing and helped keep traffic back.
Gheysar, a doctor from Orange, Calif., said it was his first emergency landing in nearly 20 years of flying. He said he and his family were returning from a weekend in Mammoth and were headed to Palomar Airport in Carlsbad when the engine suddenly quit.
He said the plane should have had enough fuel to fly another 30 minutes, and he does not know what went wrong.
When asked if he would fly again, Gheysar said, "Absolutely."
Will his family go with him again next time? "Probably not," he said, chuckling.