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Public Employee Press
DOT crew prevents airplane crash
By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
What began for three Connecticut tourists as a casual flight around Lady Liberty turned to panic. But a well-trained DOT crew in the right place at the right time made the difference between a lifesaving miracle and an aviation disaster.
Working on a massive emergency pothole blitz, Miguel Lopez, a Supervisor in Local 1157, was the lead driver of the crew in DOT trucks filling holes that pock the roadway's expansion joints in northbound lanes near 233rd Street in the Bronx. They pour about two tons of asphalt each day to fix city streets and make roads safer for New Yorkers.
The DOT crew on the Major Deegan Expressway, one of New York City's busiest roadways, included Local 376 Highway Repairers Roy Kane, Randall Sanders and Adalberto Troche and Assistant Highway Repairers Roger Charrette and Diego Luna of Local 983.
"Luna was in the passenger seat and saw the plane first," Lopez said. "He said 'Look up!' I saw the plane's underbelly, it was like a big seagull gliding just above the trees heading into oncoming southbound traffic."
Lopez stepped on the gas and speedily maneuvered his truck to block the left lane. The other Highway Repairers acted just as quickly: Charrette cut off an accelerating tractor-trailer. Kane blocked the center lane, stopping passenger cars to block traffic and shut down all northbound lanes on the Major Deegan.
Above them, the pilot steered the Piper Cherokee left to avoid trees and the traffic-crammed southbound lanes, and into the empty north lanes, where he safely landed. Troche, a 34-year DOT veteran, said, “The plane landed straight down; it did not glide in. It could have landed on us."
"He must have spotted us. It was all quick response, no time to radio my crew, no time to even signal, only seconds," said a still stunned Lopez. "City vehicles don't have much power, but this day the truck responded."
He called DOT's Central Dispatch to say there wasn't a car accident but a plane just landed on the Major Deegan and needed emergency assistance.
Before police and firefighters arrived, the DOT crew ran to the plane and led the passengers to safety. "Sanders helped them into our truck to keep them warm so they would not go into shock," Lopez said. "Everyone gave a hand and helped. No one was seriously hurt, no cars were rear-ended, not even a tree limb was broken. The whole thing could not have gone smoother if it was a stunt for an action movie."
The outcome might not have been so good if Luna had not looked up at that moment. He said, "If I was checking my phone or drinking a coffee, I don't know." It might not have ended as well.
"We didn't know what was happening but we knew they were in trouble," Sanders said. "I credit the pilot. With no engine, he moved it into the right location. Instead of crashing, he put that plane down. It was a dangerous maneuver but it worked. Imagine if we were not there."
"In 24 years on the job, I never saw a plane land on a highway," said Kane. "When I saw that plane fall from sky, I could hardly believe it. You don't expect to ever see that. I didn't know if the plane would break up or what."
"Some see us as heroes - we don't. We are just city employees doing our job," Lopez added. "Today we are back filling potholes."
While the three plane passengers have yet to thank the crew, said Lopez, Mayor Bill de Blasio invited the DOT work crew to City Hall on Jan. 6 and thanked them for their heroism.