How a Pothole Repair Crew Helped Land a Plane on a Bronx Highway

Quick thinking repairmen blocked traffic when they noticed a small aircraft in distress.

Image
Reuters

Road work crews typically labor in obscurity, spending hours in blazing sun or freezing cold without glory or fanfare. In New York City, with its aged infrastructure, impatient drivers, and wildly variable weather, the job is devoid of even the faintest hint of glamour. When is the last time, after all, that anyone said even a simple thank you to one of the men and women who maintain the asphalt that tens of thousands drive on every day?

But last weekend, members of a New York City DOT crew had rare occasion to step into the limelight.

As they worked to fix potholes on the Bronx's Major Deegan Expressway in the wake of a snowstorm, workers noticed a small airplane in distress. The pilot looked to be heading in for a landing on the heavily trafficked road.

Two lanes of traffic were already blocked off by trucks for the repair work, and the crew quickly stopped traffic from using the third, creating a temporary runway near the E. 233rd Street exit. The pilot of the Piper PA38 Cherokee was headed home to Connecticut with two passengers after making a scenic loop around the Statue of Liberty when he lost power.

Miguel Lopez, a DOT employee, told the Daily News that the plane clipped some trees as it made for the impromptu landing strip he and his coworkers had cleared. The landing gear buckled when the aircraft hit the tarmac, but the three people inside suffered only minor injuries, and the pilot left the plane "like he was just getting out of a taxi," an NYPD officer told the New York Times.

A single engine plane is seen amid vehicle traffic on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx. (Carlo Allegri /Reuters)



The first thing the pilot did when he deplaned, Lopez said, was get on his phone. "He kept asking the person ... 'What am I going to do with the plane?'" Lopez recalled. "I told him, 'At least you didn’t get a ticket for parking on the Major Deegan.'"

The incident was proudly noted on the DOT’s own tumblr, the Daily Pothole:

The DOT personnel immediately aided the three passengers and gave them shelter inside one of their heated trucks as emergency personnel were contacted. A potentially more devastating situation could have arose if it wasn’t for the efforts of this DOT pothole crew.

The blog normally tracks the tireless efforts of the department to "make the city's streets smooth" (a Sisyphean task, if there ever was one) as well as giving citizens a place to report potholes and to check the condition of individual streets around town. According to the Daily Pothole, between July 1 and December 18, 2013, DOT crews had filled an astonishing 65,751 potholes. And as of January 4, 2014, they had also successfully created one DIY runway.

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.