His airplane did not have enough power to stay aloft, said pilot Armon Tabrizi, and he was not immediately sure where he would land. Then, calmly deciding to put it down in the middle of an East Anchorage street Tuesday afternoon, Tabrizi avoided stoplights and cars and descended safely onto a snowy median.
Tabrizi, 27, and his two passengers stepped out of the red-and-white Cessna in the middle of Boniface Parkway a little after 1 p.m., unscathed.
"I can't talk too much about the investigation that's going on," Tabrizi said in a phone interview later. "I'm just glad everybody is fine and stuff, and we'll see what happens."
The Cessna 172RG Cutlass appeared to have damage to its landing gear but was for the most part intact as cars and trucks drove past on each side. Traffic was diverted for a time as a tow-truck driver worked to load up the single-engine plane and get it back to its owner, Land and Sea Aviation, a flight school based at Merrill Field.
Ben Kinney, a flight instructor and operations supervisor for the company, said the plane was on a routine maintenance flight. It had not had any problems recently or undergone significant mechanical work, he said.
"It's just a systems check. Basically you go up and check the systems on the airplane," Kinney said. "Regardless of whether they've had work or not, we just routinely fly them to make sure all the bells and whistles are working. Even in speculation, I really have no idea what could've happened."
But the Cessna's engine had "significant issues" as it was flying south after taking off from Merrill Field, said Tabrizi, also a flight instructor. Inside the plane, everyone remained calm.
"The engine never quit," Tabrizi said. "But we lost enough power and were unable to maintain flight."
"Then the adrenaline starts to kick in," said passenger Arthur Racicot, a mechanic for Land and Sea Aviation, at the landing site. The second passenger has not been identified, but Tabrizi said he is also a pilot.
At such a low altitude, the three men on board talked about landing at Campbell Airstrip to the south, except they worried the plane would hit trees. So Tabrizi said he thought to land the plane on a runway at Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson to the north.
There was a break in the traffic, and Tabrizi aimed for the median. He avoided "every single stoplight on Boniface," he said.
Meredith Hazen, who was driving on the four-lane street at the time, recounted what happened next.
"I noticed it coming over the top of my car, from the back side," Hazen said. "It took me a second to realize, 'He's not flying that low on purpose.' I could see the belly of the plane out my windshield."
Hazen said the plane flew straight down the center of Boniface.
"I could see the left wing hit the ground, and the second car in front of me, I think, hit his brakes really hard. He went up on the snow in the barrier, because he didn't want to hit the wing," Hazen said.
Several drivers, including Hazen, pulled over to see if the plane's occupants were OK. Police officers and firefighters were there within minutes, she said.
Hazen, who works for commercial aviators Ravn Alaska, formerly Era Alaska, was worried.
"It was pretty scary. It was a smaller plane, and I know those smaller planes aren't as sturdy," Hazen said.
Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board arrived a short time later and interviewed the Cessna's pilot and passengers. A tow-truck driver worked to dig the plane out of snow, winched it, with a flat front tire and bent back wheel, up onto his truck and drove away. Police officers fully reopened Boniface about 3:50 p.m.
"Obviously, we don't have airplanes landing on the road very often," police Lt. Mark Thelen said.
The NTSB did not return a call for comment.
"I was just really, really happy. Really, really thankful that all the individuals on board weren't hurt," Kinney said. "They're all three really good friends of mine."
At least two other planes have landed on Southcentral Alaska roadways without injuries in the past year.
In July, a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver owned by Talkeetna Air Taxi was undamaged when the pilot landed on the Parks Highway near Chulitna, according to the NTSB.
A Piper PA-18 Super Cub crash-landed on Seward-Meridian Parkway in September just after taking off from the pilot-owner's home in Wasilla, according to Alaska State Troopers and the pilot's wife. The $80,000 plane reportedly a total loss.