Landing on the FREEWAY
“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