The plane ended up upside down in the dry Fresno River, near Schnoor Avenue. The pilot walked away with only minor injuries.
Madera police say the 70-year-old man was flying from Arizona to Oregon when he started running out of fuel so he decided to make an emergency landing in the river. When his wheels hit the sand, the plane flipped over.
But police say the pilot may have saved lives by avoiding a nearby residential area and the Madera District Fairgrounds, where a swap meet was taking place.
"It was a very good decision making to land here, and I thought it was a very good job of landing the plane without him getting majorly injured," Sgt. Johnny Smith of the Madera Police Dept. said.
The crash investigation will be handled by the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.