William Reister had a perfect day for flying — blue skies, warm temperatures and slight breezes — when his small airplane took off from Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville.
But his leisurely flight around the area Sunday morning turned memorable when his aircraft lost power and he couldn’t reach an airport landing strip.
Instead, the Dunwoody man dropped safely onto the grassy median of Ga. 400 in Dawson County.
"We got the initial call from a motorist that the aircraft had appeared to be losing power,” said Sgt. Johnny Holtzclaw of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office. “Moments after that, we had multiple calls that the aircraft had landed in the median.”
Reister, who had one passenger with him, landed a couple hundred yards south of Dawson Forest Road.
No one was injured in the plane or on the roadway, Holtzclaw said.
“We were pretty fortunate, as far as that was concerned,” he said, noting that Dawson Forest serves as the primary entrance to North Georgia Premium Outlets and the amount of traffic was “pretty moderate.”
Reister was flying a Lancair 320, a two-seat, single-engine craft.
“That’s a kit-built aircraft. It was about 18 years old,” Holtzclaw said. “The owner did not build it; he’s had it about four years.”
Reister, who couldn’t be reached for comment, had been flying for about 40 minutes when he lost power.
With his plane losing altitude, “he had to seek other alternatives and find a safe place to land,” Holtzclaw said.
The median separates the four-lane Ga. 400, a popular route for metro Atlanta travelers heading to and from the North Georgia mountains.
"We had reports that (Reister) flew under traffic lights (as he was landing),” Holtzclaw said.
Reister wasn’t headed for anywhere in particular Sunday morning. He was just taking advantage of a nice day, the sergeant added.
“He was going to return to Briscoe when he was ready to complete his flight,” he added.
The Federal Aviation Administration also is investigating the incident.
An FAA recovery unit was sent from Atlanta to the scene. The plane is being kept at a private airfield, Holtzclaw said.
Kathleen Bergen, FAA spokeswoman, said the landing will be classfied as an “incident” rather than an “accident” because it didn’t result in any serious injuries or substantial damage.
She also said such landings are more common than people probably think, noting that someone landed on Interstate 85 during rush hour just a few months ago.
“An aircraft gets in trouble, the pilot needs to put it down some place and a road ... is a nice, smooth flat surface,” Bergen said.