MERCED -- A small plane crash-landed on Highway 99 near Pioneer Road at 6:39 p.m. Friday.
Nobody was injured after the pilot, James Drexler, was forced to land when his plane malfunctioned, causing him to lose altitude, said John Patterson, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol.
Drexler was 30 minutes into a northbound solo flight from Visalia to Vacaville in his 1948 Luscombe 11A when he lost pitch control on his aircraft, he said.
"I still had left and right controls, so I kind of lined up with the freeway and just had an uncontrolled descent down to the freeway," Drexler said.
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While landing, his left landing gear hit the top of a U-Haul van and his right wing hit a sign, causing the plane to rotate onto the east shoulder of 99 facing south, Patterson said.
The driver of the U-Haul van, Jesus Ramirez-Bravo, 54, was also uninjured, Patterson said. There was only minor damage to the van.
"They were very fortunate," he said.
While making his descent at 80-100 mph, Drexler tried to avoid vehicles and some were able to avoid him, he said. He had no control over his altitude to keep from hitting the U-Haul.
"Some people said they saw me in their rear-view mirror," Drexler said. "The people behind could see me coming down, too."
Drexler had never been involved in a plane crash before, but was able to remain calm, he said.
"It was just kind of a surreal, out-of-body experience," Drexler said. "It was actually a very calm, sliding feeling and then a spin."
The damage to the plane was significant, he said.
"It's not going to get rebuilt this time," Drexler said. "It went through a restoration, but I think it's going to have to go for parts. That's probably $300,000."