GRANITE FALLS, N.C. – Pilot Eric Klein found himself using a section of Highway 321 as his emergency runway Monday night.
Almost two hours into his flight, his single-engine Piper Cherokee 140 showed signs of trouble above Granite Falls.
"There are two tanks on the plane, and one of the tanks did run dry. I switched to the other tank and looked at the fuel gauge and thought I had enough to get to the airport even though it was low," he explained.
"Everything had checked out before I left, as normal. I should have had close to three hours, and hour 55 minutes into the flight, the engine started to quite," he said.
Klein was headed to Hickory Airport, but when it became clear he would not make it, he decided the expanse parking lot of the nearby Walmart Supercenter would give him enough room to land safely.
"From the distance I was at, it looked like there were a few cars in the parking lot, but as I got closer, I realized it was full of people, and that was not an option," said Klein.
Klein who had been flying since 2005, admitted he started to panic. He said the adrenaline kicked in and
he relied on his emergency pilot training find an alternate landing strip.
Around 10:30pm, using the headlights of the vehicles below, and wedged himself between
the moving traffic of the northbound lanes.
"There were cars ahead of me and there was a small gap of cars behind the gap. I did my best to place myself right behind the one car, so people behind me can see what is happening but not freak the person ahead of me too much," he said.
'I was concerned the car in front of me might stop, I was also afraid car behind me may not see me and I didn't want to stop the plane in the middle of traffic lanes where anyone can come by and strike the plane."
Gerald Cole told NBC Charlotte his wife first noticed the plane.
They had just pulled out of the Walmart and could not believe the plane was touching down the right side of the road at an angle.
"It tipped sideways," he said.
The plane landed just in front of Cole's vehicle.
"Probably two car lengths in front, really close. I hit the brakes pretty hard," said Cole.
Klein's plane sustained no damage. No one including himself was hurt.
"I just appreciate the support that was there for me and the emergency units, and people from the airport helping out," he said apologetically.
"The potential for crashing and dying and hurting other people, and property damage. I'm stressed for all the problems I caused other people. No one likes to be a problem for anybody," he said.
The NC Highway Patrol and FAA are investigating.
Klein says he plans to fly again.