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I-35 is only option as plane engine fails

A dramatic emergency landing on Interstate 35 last week did no damage to the plane or the pilot, Daniel Blace of Saginaw. The emergency landing on the northbound lanes of Interstate 35 between Barnum and Mahtowa took place around 1 p.m. Friday, June 16. After landing successfully, Blace drove the plane off the interstate and into the ditch.

The pilot, who was alone in the plane, told the Pine Knot News it was a forced landing.

"The engine quit. You can't stay in the air when that happens," he said.

Landing on the interstate was his only option.

"I saw a field off to the side but I determined it was not safe to land there. It looked like mostly marsh," he said Wednesday afternoon. He said the Federal Aviation Administration told him he did a good job getting the plane down.

They are calling it an "occurrence," he said, not an accident or even an incident. There was no damage to his plane during the landing and he said he was fine.

"With my experience, it was no biggie, just a routine landing," he said. "Except it happened to be on I-35."

Blace was fortunate there was a break in the heavier-than-normal Friday traffic, which included lots of folks bound for Grandma's Marathon in Duluth.

"I saw the gap and I took it," he said.

In an online preliminary report, the FAA described the "Wilderness Storm" plane as an amateur-built, experimental aircraft, which is certified through 2030. Blace is licensed as an airframe and powerplant mechanic and private pilot. The 65-year-old said he's been flying since he was 19 years old. It was the first time he'd ever had to make an emergency landing, he said.

A 54-second Facebook video posted by Taylor Rayne Littler showed the airplane landing on the interstate almost immediately after the exit to the Culkin rest area a mile south of Mahtowa, bouncing more than once before continuing to taxi down the highway.

“We didn't know if it would be a good sight to see, or an awful one,” Littler told the Pine Knot. “We were on a corner and cars were not slowing down and kept trying to pass us, because they could not see what was happening.”

Another video, posted to the Pine Knot News Facebook page by Sarah Kracke, appears to show Littler's aunt with her hand out the window cautioning other vehicles and her hazard lights flashing as the plane moves ahead of her.

"We stopped to make sure he was OK. He was calmer than we were," Littler wrote.

"I could see they were pretty shook up," Blace said, confirming he saw the video.

At 3:09 p.m. Friday, the plane was still parked in the grassy area off the highway, separated from the rest area by a stand of trees. Blace and a couple friends were working to get the wings folded back so it could be towed away. Traffic was slowed for close to a mile, as vehicles could use only one lane.

Blace said once the wings were folded back, they made quick work of loading the plane on a tow truck trailer.

Five days later, on Wednesday morning, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office reported an unrelated airplane crash with two fatalities in a wooded area to the West of Pequaywan Lake Road north of Duluth. The plane was a 1946 Aeronca. The cause of the crash was unknown, but the news release said it was believed the aircraft recently completed an annual inspection and was on a "return to service" flight.

Blace said he knew both of the people on the plane, who were also in their 60s.

"Yeah, I was pretty fortunate," he said.

In February, the Pine Knot reported on a pilot who made an emergency landing on a then-frozen Big Lake near Cloquet with his experimental aircraft after his landing gear fell off on departure. He, too, was uninjured.

Editor's note: This story is slightly longer than the print version. Find Littler's video here: https://www.facebook.com/1255563421/videos/pcb.10221168456541762/890893079402506