When the engine on his small plane failed three times, Vincent Fraser had no choice but to make an emergency landing in mountainous terrain just south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
GoPro video of his perilous landing in western North Carolina shows Fraser maneuvering his single-engine plane under power lines and into a highway’s center turn lane, with cars traveling in two lanes on either side.
Fraser, who was flying with his father-in-law, spoke about his harrowing July 3 landing Monday morning on CNN’s “New Day.”
“The only thing really going through my head was I needed to keep my father-in-law safe, and I needed to keep the people on the ground safe, and I was just trying to do it the best that I can without hurting anybody,” Fraser told CNN’s John Berman on Brianna Keilar.
They were over Fontana Lake when they first had engine failure and Fraser didn’t see any roads because of the trees and mountainous landscape.
“So originally there were no options,” Fraser said. At one point, he thought a bridge in the distance was their “best and only chance.” But they were too low to make the bridge landing and there were too many vehicles on the bridge to attempt it without serious risk of hurting or killing someone, he explained.
So the next option was the river in front of the bridge, which Fraser said he was committed to landing on when “by some miracle, that highway … just showed up to my left because you couldn’t see it before because of the mountains and the valleys and the trees.”
Fortunately, Fraser said he had enough altitude to turn the aircraft toward the highway at the last second.
The video from Fraser’s GoPro camera shows him landing in the middle of the road as traffic passes by on either side of the aircraft.
“They had to have been so terrified,” Fraser said of the people on the ground.
Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran praised the landing in a Facebook post: “What an OUTSTANDING job and no injuries. AMAZING.”
“There were so many things that could have been catastrophic but they didn’t happen,” Cochran said.
A mechanic checked out his plane and it was towed up the mountain to a higher, longer road, Fraser said, and three days later, he took off from the highway.
The takeoff was “terrifying,” Fraser said, but he made it into a Marine objective.
“I went back to when I was in the Marine Corps and made it my mission to get off that mountain. And so you know, I knew the plane was safe, I knew the plane has been checked out, I knew I had the training,” Fraser said. But his nerves were raw.
“I honestly just wanted to turn it off, get out, throw up. You just can’t believe this is actually happening.”
But the takeoff was a success. Mission accomplished.