NEW YORK — A Toyota Camry sprouted wings and flew uncontrollably from a highway in Massachusetts into the 61st floor of the Empire State Building over the weekend.
The driver, identified as Melvin Carlyle, was traveling southbound on Route 1A through Attleboro, according to witnesses, when the wings suddenly emerged from either side of his vehicle, causing it to ascend over 5,000 feet.
Ellen Carlyle said her husband was initially “thrilled with the new feature” when he called from his cell phone to describe the experience. “He had overslept that morning,” she noted, “so when his car started soaring over the traffic, he was very pleased, believing it would help him get to work on time.”
But his enthusiasm quickly soured, as he realized his inability to land. “He’s always been such a baby,” said Mrs. Carlyle. “I told him to stop screaming and call 911.”
Tapes of that frantic emergency call confirm Carlyle lost complete control of his vehicle. “I need someone to talk me through landing my Camry,” his quivering voice is heard saying on the recording, followed by the sound of shattering glass. “I think a Canadian goose just landed in my front seat.”
Toyota Motor Corp. denied the problem was connected to a defect in manufacturing. “We don’t know why Mr. Carlyle’s vehicle suddenly sprouted wings,” said Yuri Takamoshi, Vice President of Toyota’s newly created Department of Manufacturing Defects. “Perhaps he should read the owner’s manual from cover to cover the next time he purchases a car.”
Despite Toyota’s denials, reports of other models sprouting wings and flying through the air have been on the rise over the past 18 months, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. “We’ve had two Corollas spotted over Sedona, Arizona back in November,” said NTSB Assistant Vice Chairman, Rod D’Monica, “and a Rav4 fell through the roof of a house in Cleveland just last week.”
Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), accused the company of enforcing cost-cutting measures at the expense of product safety. He said his committee uncovered documents revealing executives knew about the wing problems, but decided the low number of incidences did not warrant a recall.
“They could have very easily had their dealers add flaps to the wings,” said Frank. “The installation of a simple control yoke, throttle, altimeter and airspeed indicator could have prevented this horrible tragedy.”
Toyota President Akio Toyoda will testify at a U.S. congressional hearing on Feb. 24, to address the problem of “accidental vehicle ascension.”