Pilot, passenger uninjured after landing plane on I-5 near Del Mar

A small single engine plane made an emergency landing on the southbound I-5 freeway near Del Mar
A small single engine plane made an emergency landing on the southbound I-5 freeway near Del Mar on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. According a witness, several cars were damaged but there did not appear to be any serious injuries.
(Photo by Mike Gibba)

Two people who were in vehicles struck by the Piper PA-32 aircraft sustained minor injuries after the plane landed south of Via de la Valle


A pilot in a small plane that was experiencing mechanical problems made an emergency landing Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 24, on Interstate 5 near the Del Mar Fairgrounds, authorities said.

Both the pilot and passenger of the single-engine Piper PA-32 aircraft were uninjured, but two people in vehicles struck by the plane suffered minor injuries, according to California Highway Patrol spokesperson Officer Sal Castro and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Paramedics took both of those people to hospitals for treatment. Their injuries included superficial cuts from shattered glass, according to José Ysea, a spokesperson for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

At least four vehicles were hit by the single-propeller plane as it landed just after noon in the southbound lanes of I-5 near Via de la Valle, Castro told reporters, including OnScene TV, at a news conference near the landing site. Footage from the scene showed part of the aircraft ended up lodged in the shattered windshield of an Audi SUV.

Sarah Tribett and her husband, in town from Texas to celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary, were driving south on the freeway in a rented Kia sedan when suddenly the car’s back windshield blew out.

“I didn’t know at the time it was a plane,” Tribett told OnScene TV. “But it hit really hard and all of the sudden there was just glass everywhere ... and I looked up and there was the plane, in front of us, just kind of all over the road.”

Tribett and her husband “were just scared to death” at first, but she later felt grateful they weren’t injured. She said people who were in vehicles behind her car told the couple that their rental car “actually broke the fall” of the plane.

“They came up after and told us the plane landed on the back of our car, then kind of swung around and hit a few others,” Tribett said. “Obviously we couldn’t see it.”

She said the plane’s pilot and passenger came over later to apologize.

According to Castro, the pilot took off earlier in the day from Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport — commonly known as Montgomery Field — in Kearny Mesa and was flying along the coast when the aircraft started to experience mechanical problems near Del Mar.

The pilot tried to land in a nearby dirt field, but was unable to do so, and instead set the plane down on the freeway. It came to rest with its nose and part of its left wing hanging over the center median.

“Anytime a plane lands on the freeway, it’s going to be pretty catastrophic,” Castro said. “Luckily it’s minor injuries and nobody sustained major injuries or even sustained any fatal injuries.”

A small single-engine plane made an emergency landing Tuesday on south Interstate 5 near Del Mar.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Mike Gibba was driving on I-5 when he saw the plane about 100 feet above the freeway.

“It then proceeded to drop quickly and it was apparent he was doing an emergency landing,” Gibba wrote in a text message, adding that as the aircraft touched down, “a huge puff of smoke filled the air.”

Gibba jumped out of his truck to see if he could help. “To my surprise both pilot and at least one passenger were already out on their feet,” he wrote. “There were 5 cars off to the right that had been damaged but it seemed there were no serious injuries. A miracle for sure!”

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, which snarled traffic as officials shut down all lanes of I-5 in the area in both directions. Authorities progressively reopened lanes throughout the day, with the last lanes reopening about 5 p.m.

Tuesday’s landing marked at least the fourth time in the past three years that pilots have made emergency landings on San Diego County freeways.

In July 2020, a pilot flying to Montgomery Field from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana made a midday landing of a small plane on I-5 near San Onofre after the aircraft began experiencing problems near Camp Pendleton.

In December 2019, the pilot of a single-engine Cessna made an emergency landing on I-5 in Carlsbad, with the pilot able to avoid hitting any vehicles during the nighttime landing.

In October 2018, then-25-year-old flight instructor Ryan Muno, a former San Diego State University baseball player, landed a single-engine Piper PA-28-161 in the westbound lanes of Interstate 8 in El Cajon when the plane lost power while descending for a landing at Gillespie Field.

In April 2016, a pilot landed a small plane on Interstate 15 near Fallbrook. The single-engine Lancair IV landed in the slow lane of the freeway, skidded about 250 feet and plowed into the back of a 2015 Nissan Sentra that was pulled off the right shoulder, killing a backseat passenger in the car.

Union-Tribune researcher Merrie Monteagudo and City News Service contributed to this report.


5:24 a.m. Aug. 25, 2021: This story was updated with additional information and background.

5:24 a.m. Aug. 25, 2021: This story was updated with additional information, details and quotes throughout.