The teen pilot who made an emergency landing on a New Jersey bridge said the unexpected stop wasn’t the “smoothest” of his career — but still got the job done.
Landon Lucas, 18, recalled the wild touchdown he made Monday in the westbound lanes of the Route 52 causeway connecting Ocean City to Somers Point after his banner-toting Piper J3 plane started having engine trouble while flying over Atlantic City, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“Being scared does nothing,” Lucas told the newspaper Wednesday. “It was either water or bridge. There was a gap in traffic, and I went in. I just did a 90-degree turn, and put it on.”
Lucas, a Wyoming native with an associate’s degree in aviation from Northwest College, said he was having a “bumpy” ride above Atlantic City casinos when his engine “rolled back to idle out of nowhere” amid the turbulence.
The young aviator flying for Paramount Air Service then ditched the aircraft’s banner — an ad for Steel Pier amusement park — and headed toward Ocean City Municipal Airfield, or the “nearest actual airport,” he recalled.
“I still had marginal eng ine power, enough to sustain altitude,” Lucas said. “I thought if I at least had that, I would aim for the airport. It’s a lot easier to aim for the airport and actually take off again than to land in an abandoned airport or a highway. The intention was not to land in a bridge in the first place.”
But the plane’s engine “completely failed” moments later as Lucas was approaching Ocean City. He then noticed a “gap in traffic” on the bridge big enough for him to land on the 2.2-mile span, where no cars came near the plane until it touched down, the Inquirer reported.
“I was trained,” the cool and collected teen said. “I knew how to do it. I attempted Ocean City, and didn’t make it. What’s going to kill you is getting scared.”
Lucas landed the plane — built in 1946 — without injuring himself or anyone else on the causeway, although a two-car accident occurred on its eastbound lanes, the Inquirer reported.
“It wasn’t the smoothest of my career,” he said. “It was smooth enough.”
Lucas said he yelled out “f–k yeah” as loud as he could upon landing the aircraft, which didn’t have “even a scratch” on it, he said.
“Being scared does nothing,” he continued. “It was my only option. You look left, you look right. There was really only one spot to put it in. One good spot.”
Mechanic Joe McSherry said the broken weld in the plane’s airbox will be fixed before it flies again “probably next week,” the Inquirer reported.
McSherry said Lucas managed to get the Piper J3 onto the bridge with just feet to spare — noting the width of the westbound lanes is 39 feet, or 4 feet wider than the plane’s wingspan.
“He nailed it,” McSherry said.
Video showed Lucas back up in the skies Wednesday while towing a Cape May National Golf banner over Wildwood.
“Just another day at work, not an ideal one,” Lucas said of his landing. “That’s how you make your money. I’m trained to be a pilot. Flying a plane that runs is not that hard. It’s when they stop running.”