Nebraska pilot lands plane safely on dirt road just feet from railway tracks

CAIRO, Neb. — Just after taking off from Central Nebraska Regional Airport on Wednesday afternoon, Mark Wickard found himself 2,500 feet in the air in a plane that wouldn’t fly.

Wickard, though, didn’t panic. He brought the plane safely to the ground, landing on a dirt road northwest of Cairo at 3:25 p.m. The Cessna 172 came to a stop facing north on North Bluff Center Road, its tail about 10 feet away from BNSF Railway tracks. The impromptu landing strip was 2 miles north of Highway 2.

The Bridgeport man, who was alone in the plane, was not injured. The aircraft showed no visible damage.

Wickard was traveling from Grand Island to Scottsbluff when he felt what sounded like an engine vibration. The plane then lost power.

In choosing his landing spot, “I just scoped out the best options without any power lines or anything like that. And I was able to just kind of pick a spot and fly the airplane, and that’s what I did,” he said.

Wickard, 56, said he wasn’t that worried when the plane malfunctioned.

Landing on a road wasn’t that difficult because “I’m used to flying off of small strips anyway,” he said.

But he wasn’t happy with the place he came down. “I wanted to land in Scottsbluff,” he said, laughing.

Wickard planned to remove the wings and inspect the engine to “find out why it dropped a valve or what the power problem is,” he said.

Wickard owns an HVAC business. “I was down here for some business,” he said of the trip to Grand Island.

The Cairo and Dannebrog Fire Departments, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol came to the scene.

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