No one was injured when a Bellanca Viking with two people aboard made an emergency landing on a Minnesota freeway on Dec. 2, colliding with an SUV. Surveillance video shows the plane threading through light standards before touching down in the left lane of I-35 near New Brighton. While the landing was successful, the plane overtook an SUV in the right lane and its right wing collided with the vehicle. The plane and car ended up tangled on the median.

According to local media, competitive aerobatic pilot Craig Gifford was flying the Viking. He reportedly told the lone occupant of the vehicle that the aircraft had suffered a “complete engine failure.” Gifford was part of the U.S. Unlimited Aerobatics team that earned a bronze medal at the world championships in South Africa in 2017. He also competed 2019. EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski told KMOV it was a “textbook emergency landing” by a pilot whose aerobatics training undoubtedly helped. “Pilots are trained to deal with emergency engine problems and things like that if you have to make an emergency landing, and so the combination of that training and certainly (Gifford’s) aerobatic training really paid off in this situation,” he said.


  1. Great landing–at night–put it down within a 500′ (or less) moving window. He had to be fast enough to pass over the rear cars, and still put it down before hitting the lead vehicle–all the while missing those light poles.

    I can see this as a feature in a future airshow–the “moving window accuracy landing.”

    I knew a “Good Ol’ Boy” pilot from the Tennessee hills that put a Cessna 310 down on a freeway (he ran it out of fuel). As he relates the story–“I had it all figured out–kept the speed up to get over the cars and land before I got to the semi truck ahead–I could almost read about in the papers tomorrow–“pilot makes emergency landing.” BUT LET ME ASK YOU A QUESTION: “If YOU were driving a semi on the freeway, and YOU seen an airplane in your rear-view mirrors with lights on an’ everything, WOULD YOU HIT THE BRAKES?” Oh, me, it was like he was backin’ up into me, and there was nothing I could do about it!”

  2. As a former over the road truck driver, I can assure you it takes a “process” time to decide what you are going to do when your rear view mirror fills up with fast approaching lights. The normal human initial reaction is to lift off the accelerator when the unusual is approaching from behind or an unusual scene unfolding in front.

    For OTR drivers, the bane of most rear end accidents is heads down cell phone use. I have witnessed far too many fatal accidents when people drive right into the back of a trailer or another vehicle without so much as nary a flicker of the brake lights if at all. Most professional drivers now add to one’s protective mode the scan of rapidly approaching headlights of the average American Family Truckster. I have had to deal with motorcyclists weaving through traffic doing a wheelie at night passing me at well over 100mph+ with their LED, blue headlamp rising and falling as they go by me under the overpasses at ATL on I-275. I have witnessed this on numerous occasions in similar circumstances in places all over the country even in the rain. Another rear approaching surprise is the now common road rage driver who encounters an equally agitated road rage counterpart and they “attack” each other repeatedly in similar high density traffic situations. Add to this, unmarked police vehicles with enough LED lighting to illuminate an average city, suddenly explodes into existence behind you either to pull you over or to get you to move over so they can get to wherever they need to go. In all these cases the initial sensory response is to lift off the loud pedal momentarily while you assess the situation and try to process the unusual.

    In this case the drive of the SUV had already passed the exit ramp, was approaching the underpass, and suddenly has the rear view mirror filled with not only rapidly approaching lights mimicking very bright headlamps, but wing tip strobes. Do you think that the first reaction would be mashing down the gas pedal? NO. The driver lifted as most would, felt the contact of the Bellanca wing, and stepped on the brake in midst of all this confusion and sensory overload.

    This landing was performed by one of the top American IAC competitors who kept his cool while demonstrating absolutely magnificent airmanship. And the SUV driver he tapped from behind did what all of us would have done under the same circumstances. No one hurt and amazing, relatively little damage to both vehicles considering all the circumstances.

    No need to arm chair quarterback this video. Everyone did the best they could do given their experience and training. Great outcome all the way around.