The Miracle on the Major Deegan

An emergency landing could have put everyone in danger... if not for an extraordinary coincidence.

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Plane landed on the Major Deegan Expressway; James Keivom/New York Daily News

The Major Deegan Expressway is one of New York’s most heavily trafficked roads. Running north-south through the Bronx past Yankee Stadium, it’s a major conduit linking Westchester and upstate New York to the city.

Trust me, you do not want to be stuck on that road after a baseball game or during rush hour. Even at other times, traffic can be backed up for a mile or more. Alternate routes are usually advised. But last Saturday, Michael Schwartz of South Salem, New York, had no choice. On his way back from visiting the Statue of Liberty, his only option was to use the Major Deegan... or risk death.

You see, Michael wasn’t driving a car. He was piloting a single-engine prop plane–and the engine had stalled. A new pilot who had just recently purchased the old plane, Michael sent out a distress call. The air-traffic controller advised him to glide to the closest airport, LaGuardia. But that was too far away. "I'll never make it," Michael told the controller. "Where do I touch down?"

"I'm not sure where you can touch down if you're not going to make it," the controller said. "The Major Deegan Expressway, Van Cortlandt Park and the Harlem River...”

Landing in the river was too challenging for the novice pilot, and the park was too full of trees, so Michael lined up the plane with the Major Deegan, hoping for a break in the traffic.

On the ground, a construction crew was hard at work fixing up potholes in the roadway. Miguel Lopez, a Department of Transportation worker, looked up at the sky. He could see the plane flying low, its wings unsteady, headed straight at them. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Miguel told ABC News. "We started slowing down the traffic so nobody would get hurt."

Miguel and his fellow workers quickly blocked the road off, clearing the lanes ahead for a runway. Michael’s plane came in fast, but after skidding for 100 yards, it came to a safe stop. Not one car found itself in the plane’s landing zone. Not one person was seriously injured.

"We have an extraordinary situation and actually a miracle, thank God, that happened today in our city," newly elected New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio told the press.

The people stuck in traffic behind the downed plane might not think so. The road’s northbound lanes were closed off for several hours. Traffic backed up for miles. It took some people a lot, lot longer to get home.

But if that construction crew hadn’t been at that exact spot, Michael, his passengers and others may have never made it home at all.

On the other side of the Hudson River, a scandal may be brewing with the New Jersey governor accused of closing lanes of traffic in an act of revenge. Here in New York, however, it seems well-timed lane closures served a much higher purpose!

Has traffic ever saved you from disaster? What close calls were averted by someone being in just the right place at the right time? Share your story with us!

Photo credit: James Keivom/New York Daily News

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