An FAA spokesman said the two men aboard the plane that landed on Interstate 495 in Mansfield had been practicing stalls Tuesday but "the engine just quit" forcing the pilot, Matthew Kleindienst, 24, of Stoughton, and his passenger, Brian Souza, 20, of Stoneham, to land.

Pilots aren’t exactly encouraged to land airplanes on interstate highways, but in a crisis, one long flat surface is as good as another.


“In an emergency, it’s a pilot’s decision on where to land, but certainly you want to find someplace that’s long and flat like a highway, if it’s available, and, of course, try to avoid hitting anything on the ground,” said Jim Peters, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.


“FAA would not question that decision,” Peters said. “We will investigate, but at this point, in that kind of emergency, the pilot would always look for someplace he could land safely without hitting anything on the ground.”


Peters spoke Tuesday hours after a Piper Cherokee made an emergency landing on Interstate 495 in Mansfield. Both the pilot, identified as Matthew Kleindienst, 24, of Stoughton, and his passenger, Brian Souza, 20, of Stoneham, escaped without serious injury.


Pilots in trouble often land planes on highways, golf courses and farm fields — even, memorably last winter, on the Hudson River.


“We are allowed to break any rule to the extent of the emergency,” said Bob Farquharson of Easton, a pilot and instrument flight instructor. “We normally cannot land on a highway. But if it is the only way we can survive, we can land on a highway.”


The spot where Kleindienst landed his airplane, owned by East Coast Aero Club out of Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, is probably about a mile from the Mansfield Airport, which runs parallel to  I-495. But that doesn’t mean reaching the airport was an option for him.


The two men aboard had been practicing stalls — slowing down the airspeed to the point that the wings stopped giving the plane lift, Peters said.


“But the engine just quit and didn’t restart,” he said.


The plane was being used for traffic reporting, meaning it was flying at a low altitude, Farquharson said.


“If we’re low and reporting traffic, at only 1,000 feet, there’s no way we can glide back to the airport,” he said. “If we lose power, there’s only one way we’re going — down.”


Pilots are taught to constantly scan the landscape for possible places to land in an emergency, said Easton Police Chief Allen Krajcik, who is also a pilot.


“Pilots are taught that a highway may be an emergency landing area,” Krajcik said. “Obviously, you have to be careful about traffic and bridges and so on. It’s a last resort.”


In an emergency, anything will do, said Krajcik, “a golf course or a highway or a farmer’s field.”  A highway is “very similar to a runway, but obviously traffic is a concern,” he added.


Farquharson said pilots follow a set list of procedures when their planes are in trouble. They must maintain their air speed or best glide, to give them maximum travel distance; select the best location for a landing, using anything available that is flat; run through an emergency checklist; and declare the emergency to an airport or on an emergency reporting frequency.


A pilot must land the plane “under control” to increase his chance of surviving, and, once on the ground, evacuate everyone on board, said Farquharson.


Enterprise writer Vicki-Ann Downing can be reached at vdowning@enterprisenews.com.