A pilot experiencing engine trouble was able to safely land his single-engine plane on the median of Sunrise Highway in East Moriches Thursday without injury to himself or the surprised drivers whizzing by.
Frank Fierro, 75, had just taken off in the ultralight Challenger plane from Lufker and Spadaro airports in East Moriches about 1:30 p.m. when his engine started to fail, police said.
Fierro, the plane's sole occupant, tried to return to the airport. But, police said, he realized as he was over the highway that he would not make it back.
"I see the Sunrise Highway going east, going west; I'm looking down, I'm slowly gliding, and I said, 'You know what? Take advantage of what nature laid out for you," Fierro told News 12.
He chose to land the bright yellow Challenger on the Sunrise Highway median near Exit 61.
"The pilot, due to what I'm told is his wealth of experience, was never actually over a travel lane," said Sgt. George Hodge of the Suffolk County Highway Patrol. "His intent was to land in the median and that's where he landed."
Fierro, a Lake Ronkonkoma resident, told police he has been flying planes since 1956, they said.
Hodge said police received calls from concerned motorists that initially alerted them to the plane's landing.
"At no time were any motorists in danger," Hodge added.
Highway Patrol and Seventh Precinct officers helped airport personnel tow the plane to an open field on the airport's property, on Moriches-Riverhead Road near Montauk Highway, where Fierro assisted the Federal Aviation Administration in an investigation.
When reached by Newsday yesterday afternoon, Fierro said, "Due to the ongoing investigation with the FAA, I cannot comment."