An aircraft out of fuel made an emergency landing on U.S. Route 23 Saturday afternoon, prompting VDOT and other state officials to block off the four-lane stretch of highway between Wise and Norton, so the aircraft could refuel and take off again.
Pilot Jerry Wharton was the only occupant in the vintage 1936 Stinson Reliant single engine plane that landed on the highway at 12:03 p.m., and took off three hours afterward, said Wise EMS spokesperson Keisha Taylor.
“He’s OK,” she said. “A little shaken but he was the only one [involved].”
On scene were multiple emergency personnel units to examine the situation and provide logistics support for the aircraft.“The pilot came in northbound,” said Wise Police officer Nathan Rose.
Before the aircraft could refuel, “officials from the Federal Aviation Administration wanted to come down from West Virginia…but instead the FAA decided to let the pilot refuel and take off [from U.S. Route 23].”
Onlookers assembled in backed-up traffic to watch Wharton refuel and take off into the skies again.
“After I got stopped here, the police showed up immediately thank God, got involved, and took control of the crowd real quick,” said Wharton. “But I’m OK.”
Campus police officers also provided support in the town of Wise by direcing traffic from the scene of the incident.
“Everyone helped,” said Wharton. “Some guys went over to the airport to get some gas for me.”
After the plane was refueled and authorized by FAA officials to take off, Wharton climbed back into the cabin of his airplane. Many watched as the craft’s engine spun with Wharton in the driver’s seat to make another landing attempt at nearby Lonesome Pine Airport.
But before Wharton would climb into the cabin of his plane, he talked about the plane’s history.
“This plane originally back in the late 30’s and early 40’s was used by the Tuskegee Airmen down in Alabama when they did the training down there…it was actually flown a lot by those guys,” Wharton said. “The plane got sold, and then crashed, and was a basket case for more than 30 some years until I bought it. I’m a coal operator…but love to fly.”
By Clifton Diaz