Plane on Minnesota interstate landed by award-winning pilot

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The pilot of a small plane that made an emergency landing on a Minnesota interstate Wednesday has been identified as an award-winning member of the U.S. aerobatics flying team.

The single-engine Bellanca Viking plane landed and hit a vehicle, temporarily closing part of the highway Wednesday night in the St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills, officials said. Two people were on board, KMSP-TV reported, and authorities said no injuries were reported.

The pilot was identified as 52-year-old Craig Gifford, a Minneapolis resident and competitive aerobatic pilot, a sport that involves flying aircraft in a series of maneuvers. Experimental Aircraft Association spokesman Dick Knapinski said Gifford represented the United States in international competition in 2017 and 2019 on the Unlimited Aerobatic Team, which took home the bronze medal at the world championships in South Africa in 2017.

Knapinski said pilots take aerobatic training lessons to learn how to better maneuver aircraft in emergency situations, which he said explains how Gifford’s skills helped him pull off the “textbook emergency landing” on the interstate Wednesday night.

“Pilots are trained to deal with emergency engine problems and things like that if you have to make an emergency landing, and so the combination of that training and certainly (Gifford’s) aerobatic training really paid off in this situation,” he said.

Gifford declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation into the incident by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation and Safety Board.