Candidate forced to land plane on busy interstate

Max Linn of Treasure Island was near downtown Orlando when the plane lost power. He somehow put it down safely on Interstate 4.

Published October 14, 2006

Max Linn has been working to get his campaign for governor off the ground, but it literally crash-landed Friday.

The Reform Party candidate and long-time pilot from Treasure Island was hospitalized briefly after the single-engine Cessna he was piloting encountered mechanical trouble and was forced to land in midafternoon traffic on busy Interstate 4 in Orlando.

Linn glided the plane to a safe landing amid sedans, SUVs and trucks, and no one on the ground was injured.

"Luck," said Maj. Ernesto Duarte of the Florida Highway Patrol. "I think we were lucky it was Friday the 13th."

So was Linn. He was briefly admitted to the trauma unit of Orlando Regional Medical Center, but was released Friday evening.

"He's fine," said Liz McCallum, a spokeswoman for Linn's campaign. "He's just a bit shaken up."

The Highway Patrol said the accident looked worse than it was.

"It was a very uneventful event," Duarte said.

Linn, 47, was on his way to a series of campaign appearances in St. Augustine. He needed a plane to replace his Cessna 182, which was in the repair shop because of overheating problems. So he rented a Cessna 172 from Bay Air, a flying service at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg.

Reached Friday night, officials from Bay Air declined to comment.

McCallum described Linn as a skilled pilot with more than 20 years of experience who sometimes flies alone, over the objections of his campaign staffers. She said he flew by himself Friday because his regular pilot showed up late as a result of confusion about the departure time.

"We've had to insist that someone fly with him," McCallum said. "But it's not unusual for him to fly alone."

A warning sign surfaced early: McCallum said Linn made one emergency landing with the replacement Cessna at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, which caused a half-hour delay.

"He decided to go on. He had a schedule to keep," McCallum said.

The Orlando Sentinel reported on its Web site Friday that the Cessna was towed to a nearby boat dealer, whose owner changed the message on his flashing sign to read: "Don't Fly! Go boating."

Linn bought a Cessna 182 this year for $365,000. The plane was outfitted with state-of-the-art navigation equipment. He is such an avid flyer that he has a map of Florida airports with the phrase "pathological flyer" above it.

Possessed with a zany sense of humor, Linn once encouraged a St. Petersburg Times reporter to take the controls of his plane for more than a half hour on a trip to Lake City.

Linn is a long-time advocate for eight-year term limits for Florida politicians. He changed his party affiliation from Republican to Reform in May to run as a third-party candidate for governor.

The financial adviser has invested more than $1-million of his $15-million fortune in his campaign.

His platform includes eliminating the FCAT as a testing device in public schools and a starting salary for teachers of $50,000 a year.

Times staff writers Leonora LaPeter and Alex Leary contributed to this report.