Airplane makes emergency landing on Mont. highway

July 21, 2011
In this photo released on Thur. July 21,2011 by the Montana Highway Patrol showing the plane of a retired air traffic controller who's engine died and was forced to make an emergency landing of his Cessna 182 on U.S. Highway 93 just north of Darby onThur., July 21,2011. (AP Photo/Montana Highway Patrol,Scott Bennett)

DARBY, Mont. (AP) — A retired air traffic controller piloting a small plane to western Montana for a vacation wasn't exactly cleared for a landing when his plane's engine died — good thing the highway was empty.

Pilot James Hollis of Erie, Colo., was forced to make an emergency landing on an unusually empty stretch of U.S. Highway 93 just north of Darby on Thursday morning when his Cessna 182 appeared to run out of fuel.

"He actually got pretty lucky because there's a fair amount of traffic on that road," Montana Highway Patrol trooper Scott Bennett said. "Without the engine running he had no control over where he was going to land."

Bennett said the plane was mistakenly drawing fuel from only one of its two tanks. Once on the ground, Hollis discovered the problem and switched tanks.

"He was pretty embarrassed," Bennett said.

The two-lane highway is flat in the area where the plane came down, but there are trees on both sides. Hollis also was lucky to avoid power lines in the area, the trooper said.

"It had the potential to be really bad," Bennett said.

Troopers closed the road so the plane could take off again. No one was injured.