A small twin-engine cargo plane missed an elderly couple by just eight inches when it crashed into their Southwest Side home shortly after taking off from Midway Airport Tuesday morning, fire officials said.
“They were in a bedroom next to the living room and the living room is gone,” Chicago Fire Chief Michael Fox told reporters. “Eight inches. They were very lucky.”
The pilot of the plane, the only person on board, was dead at the scene. Firefighters worked for hours to remove the body from the wreckage in the 6500 block of South Knox Avenue. “The floor of the living room collapsed into the basement,” Fox said, and emergency crews had to shore up the building before going in.
Fuel was leaking from the plane but there was no fire when crews arrived around 2:45 a.m. “There was some leaking fuel but there was no ignition source,” Fox said. Firefighters doused the fuel with foam.
The plane experienced engine problems soon after departure and radioed the tower that he was returning, according to Tim Sorensen, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. After a quarter of a mile away, the plane crashed through the front of the couple’s home and came to rest in the living room, its tail angled upward against the roof of a neighboring home.
The plane hit the right side and front of the home and the couple, an 84-year-old man and an 82-year-old woman, were sleeping in a bedroom on the left side of the home, according to neighbors and fire officials.
A next-door neighbor, Luz Cazares, 62, said she climbed over her backyard fence to check on the couple. “A big part of the airplane was in their living room,” said Cazares. “I thought they were dead.
“I ran to the back of the yard, I jumped the fence and I knocked the back door of the kitchen and she opened the door and I took her outside,” Cazares said.
The woman kept asking her, “What is happening? What is happening?” Cazares said.
Police officers went into the home and brought out her husband, and the couple were taken to the home of another neighbor, Jeanine Venckus.
“They’re OK. Not a scratch on them, not a scratch on them,” Venckus said. “They’re shook up and bewildered.
The plane, an Aero Commader 500, had initially been headed for Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling. But the pilot made a last-minute change to the flight plan just before take-off and listed the destination as the Ohio State University Airport in Columbus, officials said.
The pilot took off from Runway 31C but then radioed the tower that “he was having some type of engine problem and was returning to the airport,” Sorensen said.
Venckus said she heard a sputtering noise and then silence. “We looked out the window and there was a plane in the house across the street,” she said. “Disbelief, disbelief.”
She said she rushed over to help the couple. “They’re elderly people. They’re my parents’ friends and I had to make sure they got out.
“The firemen arrived when I got out there with my coat on and they said you cannot go in there and I said I have to. I have to check on them. And he said we’re bringing them out the back door,” Venckus said.
The elderly man told her he had “heard a boom and went to get up and couldn’t walk into his front room or kitchen or anything, so they were quite bewildered,” Venckus said. “The whole right side of the house is gone. Thank God their bedrooms were on the left.”
Cazares said she rushed outside and peeked through a window and saw the couple in the hallway, just outside their bedroom, yards from the wreckage. “They’re really nice people. I love them.”
Jocelyn Mejia, 24, said she could see the crash from her bedroom window.
“I was already up, tossing and turning, and I heard the plane and then I heard a crash,” said Mejia, who has lived on the block for 10 years and has two children.
“I kind of knew what it was and then, sure enough, like two minutes later I heard the firetrucks,” she said. “I didn’t feel shaking or anything, it was just a loud bang. It scared me.
“It’s crazy. It’s right down the street. I didn’t think anything like that would happen, even living by the airport,” she said. “We were really lucky. Everyone here is really lucky.”
Source: Chicago Tribune