Plane makes emergency I-70 landing | AspenTimes.com

Plane makes emergency I-70 landing

Steve Lynn
Eagle County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

A Cessna 340 is towed off of Interstate 70 Wednesday after engine failure forced the pilot to make an emergency landing in the westbound lanes. (Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily)

GYPSUM, Colo. ” David Kunkel seemed unusually calm after he landed his plan on Interstate 70 Wednesday afternoon.

“It was pretty much a normal landing,” Kunkel said.

Kunkel, 62, of Meeker, was heading from Denver to his hometown when he made an emergency landing on Interstate 70 next to the Eagle County Airport Wednesday afternoon, the Colorado State Patrol said.

Kunkel landed in the westbound lanes between Eagle and Gypsum at about 1 p.m. after his engine failed, according to the patrol.

Kunkel lost one engine and then another and said he would have crashed had he not landed his Cessna 340 on the interstate.

“I wasn’t going to quite make it,” he said.

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There were no reports of injuries, and no cars had to swerve to avoid the plane, the State Patrol said. The westbound lanes between Gypsum and Eagle were closed about an hour and a half.

Luis Varela saw the plane flying above him as he was driving his dumptruck to Gypsum. Kunkel landed around 300 yards ahead, he said.

“He stopped so quick I almost didn’t stop my truck,” he said. “I called my friends and nobody believed me.”

“It was driving down the interstate, and there were cars behind it,” said Ellen Gall, who works nearby at the Colorado Mountain News Media building in Gypsum.

“Everything was very much in control. He looked like he was where he was supposed to be except he was in an airplane instead of a car.”

Carole Bukovich, a sales representative for Colorado Mountain News Media, was talking on the phone with a client when she looked through her window and saw the plane landing on the interstate.

“I couldn’t tell at first, my eyes aren’t the best,” Bukovich said. “I said to my client, ‘Oh my God, it’s crashing.'”

The plane kept driving down the interstate toward the Gypsum exit, Bukovich said. As of 2 p.m., the plane was sitting near the right shoulder in the westbound lane. The interstate near Gypsum lies parallel to the Eagle County Regional Airport.

“I wonder if he thought it was the runway,” Bukovich said.

Lany Coulter, a friend of Kunkel’s, drove from Meeker to pick him up. He was glad Kunkel was OK, he said.

“He did a hell of a job, he really did,” Coulter said about Kunkel’s landing. “I’ve been flying for 35 years and nothing happened. This is just a fluke.”

A van slowly towed the plane from the interstate to the Gypsum exit, where reflector poles were bent back so the plane’s wings would not get caught.

Kunkel was trying to figure out what to do with the plane Wednesday afternoon, Coulter said.

Sara Perazzo was at home in Gypsum when she heard about the plane landing on the highway and she and her mother-in-law decided to check it out.

“It’s not everyday you see this,” Perazzo said. “I’m just glad no one got hurt.”

Patricia Hedlund’s brother called her after he heard about the accident on his citizens band radio. Hedlund, of Gypsum, enjoys watching National Geographic Channel’s “Seconds to Disaster,” so drove to the Gypsum exit to watch, she said.

“I think it’s pretty outrageous,” she said.

Asked whether having to land on the interstate scared him, Kunkel said, “It gets your attention for sure.”

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the landing.