By MADDY VITALE
A skilled, young pilot safely landed a banner plane on the Route 52 Causeway bridge on Monday, but it took a team to tow it away.
The single-engine plane, a Piper J3C-65 built in 1946, was removed from the outbound side of the bridge by 4:30 p.m. Traffic was reduced to a single lane following the emergency landing at around 12:38 p.m.
Representatives of the banner advertising company Paramount Air Service, the owner of the plane, along with the pilot, Landon Lucas, 18, worked to lift up the Piper to secure it to a pickup truck.
After about 15 minutes, the plane was taken from the outbound side with the assistance of Ocean City police while halting traffic.
The plane was then moved to the other side of the highway out of the lanes of travel.
Onlookers watched from the walkway across the bridge at the unusual spectacle.
“I lived in Ocean City for years and I used to live by the airport. But I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Mike Viviano, of Galloway Township.
Viviano and his wife, Donna, came down to Ocean City for the day, as they do often, they said.
“We come to Ocean City to walk on the Boardwalk. We always wanted to walk on the bridge. We just didn’t expect to see this,” Donna noted. “The pilot did a great job. He has got to be amazing. Thank God nobody was hurt.”
Contacted at Paramount Air Service at about 2 p.m., a woman who answered the phone had no comment other than to say that the owners of the company were heading to the scene and that the pilot was uninjured and released the banner from the plane.
Lucas had reported engine trouble as he was flying near Steel Pier in Atlantic City. He dropped his advertising banner into the ocean and tried to reach the Ocean City Municipal Airport, according to a city news release.
Lucas spotted a gap in traffic in the westbound lanes of the causeway and landed without injuring himself, drivers or the plane, the release stated.
According to a Facebook post, Rita Lucas, the pilot’s mother, said, “Jesus (was) riding shotgun today with my boy Landon. Dang sure gonna throw an extra $100 in the offering plate on Sunday.”
Crews worked to remove the wings to tow the plane earlier in the day.
Both inbound lanes to Ocean City remained open throughout the afternoon, but there was only one outbound lane open until 4:30 p.m.
According to Paramount Air Service’s website, the company, which is in Rio Grande in Cape May County, began in 1945.
The company touts itself on the website as the “nation’s oldest and largest aerial advertising firm,” flying along the beachfronts of Cape May, Wildwood, Stone Harbor, Avalon, Sea Isle City and Ocean City.