SPARKS, Nev. — A deputy fire chief found an opening in traffic and slipped his single-engine plane into the gap after engine trouble forced him to land Monday on I-80 near Reno.
The Cessna 172 suffered tail and rudder damage, but pilot Joseph DuRousseau Jr. and three passengers on their way home from a humanitarian mission in Mexico were unhurt, Nevada State Trooper Chuck Allen said. He said there were no other injuries and did not appear to be any damage to vehicles.
"He apparently suffered some mechanical difficulties and essentially made an emergency landing on westbound I-80," Allen told The Associated Press shortly after the plane touched down about 10:20 a.m. a few miles north of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
DuRousseau, 60, the Reno Fire Department's division chief for operations, said he was trying to switch from one fuel tank to another when the engine went out and would not restart. He said traffic was light but credited the few motorists around with making the happy ending possible.
"I just saw an opening in the traffic and slowed down," DuRousseau told KRNV-TV in Reno. He said the cars behind him slowed and those ahead sped up.
"It created a nice spot to come in," he said. "Everyone did a nice job."
Allen said the plane rolled about 100 feet before it stopped in the middle of the highway near the Sparks Boulevard interchange overpass. Westbound I-80 traffic was rerouted for several hours, but both westbound lanes were open before 6 p.m.
Three female passengers were on board headed home from the four-day trip to Mexico as part of the program known as the "Flying Doctors" providing free medical services in Mexico and central America. Officials for the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were on the scene Monday afternoon. The FAA registry shows DuRousseau owns the airplane built in 1957.
DuRousseau said when the plane failed to restart, he determined the best option was to try to set it down on the interstate. The stretch of highway runs along railroad tracks and the Truckee River just east of a lake and John Ascuaga's Nugget — a high-rise casino that sits near the Reno-Sparks border.
Reno Fire spokesman Steve Frady said DuRousseau was off duty and had been diverted earlier Monday due to poor visibility, but the weather cleared and he was headed back to land when the trouble began.
In addition to his long affiliation with the "Flying Doctors," Frady said DuRousseau has a long history of involvement with search-and-rescue operations in the area.
His job with the fire department includes work with arson investigators, including the case of the deadliest fire in Reno history when 12 people were killed in a Halloween night blaze at a downtown residential hotel in 2006.