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Plane makes emergency landing during rush hour

A pilot lands safely on a service road next to Courtney Campbell Parkway.

By ELISABETH DYER
Published May 14, 2004

TAMPA - A mechanical failure in the propeller of a small plane led to an emergency landing on the Courtney Campbell Parkway during rush hour Thursday morning.

Pilot Mark Price, 53, of Alaska and Tampa businessman Sam Ballinger, 50, shared the front seat of the 1957 Helio Courier, which has a 40-foot wing span. The men had flown out of the Vandenburg Airport in Thonotosassa and were en route to Clearwater Airpark to meet a friend for lunch and to look over another plane. They were flying over Tampa Bay when the plane began to vibrate and lose power.

They turned toward Tampa International Airport but realized they weren't going to make it. "We declared an emergency," Ballinger said, and "started looking for somewhere to land."

Price said he considered landing on the main road "but for the (light) poles and all those cars." He settled on the 8-foot-wide service road, bordered by large stones and the bay, alongside the six-lane bridge.

He set the plane down at about 8:50 a.m.

"I just centerlined it," he said.

After landing, both men looked at each other and shook their heads.

The airplane was designed to be able to land and take off in short spaces. Ballinger estimated they taxied 200 feet after landing just in front of a bush that scratched the back wing. No one was injured.

"I've got to tell you," Price said to Ballinger on Thursday morning, "that's probably one of the smoothest Helio landings I've ever made."

Price had been a door gunner and crew chief in Vietnam, and has been a flight instructor for 24 years. He has had three emergency landings in that time.

Today, after the Helio's propeller has been repaired, Price plans to fly it out, using the road as a runway.

Ballinger, a Tampa native, owns Makes and Models magazine. Price sold him the plane last month for $120,000 and was training him to fly Thursday morning.

Despite the unenviable circumstances, the day wasn't a total loss.

"I was just showing him how to do emergency landings," Price said.

- Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at 813 226-3321 or edyer@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 14, 2004, 01:01:19]


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