The landing occured at 3:30 near Exit 13 on the northbound side of the highway in Van Cortlandt Park in the area of East 233rd Street, near the intersection of the Moshulu Parkway.
The Federal Aviation Administration said three people were on board the small plane at the time. Police and fire officials said neither the male pilot nor two female passengers appeared to have been badly hurt. All were taken to a St. Barnabas Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
Sources tell Eyewitness News that the airplane, a Piper Cherokee Aircraft, departed Danbury, Connecticut for a tour around the Statue of Liberty. On the way back, the plane had an on-board emergency and the pilot performed an emergency, controlled landing onto the Major Deegan Expressway near Exit 13.
The plane initially tried to divert to LaGuardia Airport after experiencing trouble but could not make it.
Quick-thinking actions by a Department of Transportation crew helped avert a potential tragedy, stopping traffic when they noticed the plane was in trouble.
Miguel Lopez, a D.O.T worker on pothole patrol noticed the low-flying, slow-moving airplane approaching the northbound side of the Deegan near Exit 13.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Eyewitness Miguel Lopez, "we started slowing down the traffic so nobody could get hurt, and the plane doesn't get hit by the cars."
Lopez says the plane clipped some trees, hit the expressway, and slid 100 yards. The pilot explained what happened.
"He explained to me that everybody was fine. There was no fire, no sparks, that they were having engine trouble," Lopez adds.
Eyewitness Jarel Paul from Nyack saw the plane flying low in the air.
"It [the plane] was probably about 100 feet away from me, but in the air, coming towards me at an angle," Paul says, "but he looked like he was kind of trying to steer it, so it was kind of moving, and then it was gliding because the propeller had stopped working."
The northbound and southbound Deegan were closed while emergency personnel responded to the scene.
FAA records indicated the plane was registered to Michael Schwartz in South Salem. It is not clear whether he was flying the plane, or on board the plane at the time of the landing.
Patricia Sapol, 29, of West Point, was driving south on the highway with her husband when they saw emergency vehicles surrounding the downed plane near exit 13, about 15 minutes after the landing.
"We couldn't believe it! We thought, 'Oh my god that's a plane!' It was pretty incredible," she said. "The fact that there was no actual crash we thought was pretty surprising."