David Stratioti and his wife were driving north on I-35W through New Brighton and Arden Hills Wednesday night when they saw a small plane in front of them and low on the horizon.

Things didn't look right, Stratioti recalled.

He figured the single-engine Bellanca Viking aircraft was heading for the Anoka County-Blaine Airport, but that was still a few miles down the road.

"It was flying way too low for where we were," Stratioti said.

Seconds later, as Stratioti approached County Road E2, he saw the pilot attempt an emergency landing in the northbound lanes. The plane struck an SUV as it came to rest on against a concrete barrier.

"We pulled over and saw the pilot and passenger get out of the plane and went over to see if everyone was OK in the SUV," said Stratioti, who said he called 911 and waited for first responders to arrive.

Nobody was hurt in the incidentthat occurred just before 9:30 p.m., the State Patrol said.

Video from the Minnesota Department of Transportation showed light traffic at the time. The plane narrowly missed two other vehicles, landing just in front of them before striking the SUV while skidding to a stop. The plane landed on a concrete median wall separating through lanes from a MnPASS lane currently under construction.

The patrol identified the pilot as 52-year-old Craig Gifford of Minneapolis. A preliminary report showed that a second person was on board the plane, said FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.

The patrol did not release the name of the SUV driver.

The freeway was closed for several hours as a bevy of first responders descended on the scene. The lanes reopened early Thursday when the plane was towed from the scene, about a quarter-mile south of the busy 35W/694 interchange.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768