Land­ing on the FREE­WAY

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Everyday Heroes - BY TAY­LOR MARKARIAN

“MAY­DAY! We got may­day!” Frank ­Pisano screamed over the mi­cro­phone to the air con­trol tower. One of the two en­gines on his 1975 Cessna had failed, and he was now on a col­li­sion course with one of the busiest high­ways in the US – ­In­ter­state 405.

Driv­ing south on the 405, near the air­port’s run­way, was John Mef­fert. A fire de­part­ment cap­tain, Mef­fert, 47, was head­ing home from his shift and had noth­ing on his mind that Fri­day morn­ing but the forth­com­ing long week­end. Then a low-fly­ing plane caught his eye. He took a sec­ond glance and a thought crossed his mind: this plane’s go­ing to hit me.

He was right. The plane slammed into the cen­tre me­dian st rip, jumped a cou­ple of me­tres and clipped the front of Mef­fert’s SUV. Mef­fert pulled over. He was un­hurt, and his SUV had sus­tained only a dent and a large scratch, so he turned his at­ten­tion to the plane.

He ran to­wards the smoke bil­low­ing from the plane – and then he saw Frank’s wife, Janan Pisano, pop her head up on the pas­sen­ger side.

By the t ime Mef fer t reached the air­craft, part of the fuse­lage was on fire and Janan, who was cov­ered in blood, was on the wing des­per­ately try­ing to pull her hus­band from the wreck.

Mef­fert, afraid the plane would ­ex­plode, guided her to safety be­hind it. At this point, traf­fic had come to a stop and two nurses jumped out of their cars to help lead Janan away as Mef­fert ran back for the pi­lot. Frank had been knocked out by the ini­tial crash, but he was con­scious now and ly­ing across both seats.

“I’m go­ing to get you out,” Mef­fert said as he po­si­tioned him­self un­der the pi­lot’s arms and care­fully lifted him from the cock­pit. A former medic in the US Navy, Mef­fert was fully aware that if Frank had suf­fered a bro­ken back, an er­rant twist could leave him paral­ysed. But Mef­fert had to hurry. He dragged the pi­lot over the wing and car­ried him to the side of the free­way to safety, where they watched f lames en­gulf the plane.

The Pisanos spent three weeks in the hospi­tal, with Frank re­cov­er­ing from six bro­ken bones in his back and Janan re­cov­er­ing from five. ­Re­mark­ably, Mef­fert’s car was the only one hit by the plane. Had Mef­fert been a sec­ond or two faster, Frank said, the left pro­pel­ler would have ripped the top off his SUV and killed him.

“I play all the what- ifs – go­ing slower, go­ing faster. It could have been a very dif­fer­ent turnout,” ­Mef­fert said. “We just had a lot of an­gels.”

Af­ter the plane crash-landed on the free­way, John Mef­fert (left) doubted that any­one could have sur­vived

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