As Kelly Burduck travelled down the Major Deegan Expressway with her father on Saturday afternoon, they assumed the slow traffic was due to an influx of holiday commuters.
But as Ms. Burduck saw helicopters circling overhead, she turned on the radio, which informed her of that afternoon’s astounding airplane landing on the highway.
After about 15 minutes of slow going, the father and daughter came upon the sight that stopped many New Yorkers in their tracks: a small Piper PA-28 perched on the northbound lane of the Deegan.
“Because it didn’t look like any major damage had been done and the subsequent news on the radio reported no injuries, we were sort of amused,” Ms Burduck, who lives in Washington Heights, wrote in an e-mail. “I remember saying all this traffic is due to rubbernecking. I feel like I’ve earned the right to snap a pic.”
Her image of the white-and-purple plane mounted on a tow truck and somewhat blurred by emergency vehicles’ lights appeared on Twitter along with dozens, if not hundreds, of other snapshots taken by passersby.
Since then, officials have breathed a sigh of relief that Saturday’s emergency landing caused far less destruction than the Dec. 1 derailment at Spuyten Duvyil train station, which killed four people and injured dozens of others. Quick thinking by Department of Transportation (DOT) workers who shut down the Deegan’s northbound lanes limited the injuries to the pilot and his two passengers.
“Our office joins Mayor [Bill] de Blasio in praising the DOT crew that assisted the emergency plane landing on Saturday,” Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “Their actions probably saved lives, and we are grateful for their work.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the incident. On Monday, a spokesperson said the body would release a preliminary report in 10 days.
As unusual as the site of the emergency landing was, Peter Knudson said NTSB reports usually only contain safety recommendations if the board uncovers a new phenomenon. “We tend to see many of the same types of accidents over and over again,” he said.
Still, Saturday’s plane landing was a shocking sight for Steve Dowling, who lives at the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative at Sedgwick and Dickinson Avenues, from where he could see the traffic jam on the Deegan.
After crossing under the Deegan on the trail to Van Cortlandt Park, Mr. Dowling made his way back up to the highway along an ice-coated stairway to get a better view of the incident.
Mr. Dowling, who is a photographer, shot several photos and posted some of those images online.
“It’s a great story,” he said. “There was no loss of life. It would be pretty awful otherwise.”