Residents Believe Plane Crashed in Lot to Save Lives

CHICAGO (AP) — Residents in a suburban Chicago neighborhood were on Monday looking at scattered pieces of a small plane that crashed hours before, wondering if the last act of a pilot before his death was to find a vacant lot on a street crowded with houses to spare lives.

“It looks like he aimed for the one vacant spot,” said Barbara Janusz, who lives with her daughter’s family in a house in Palos Hills where she said the plane’s wings came to rest. “I’m sure he sacrificed his own life for everybody else’s, bless his soul.”

Palos Hills Deputy Police Chief James Boie had the same thought after looking around the neighborhood and hearing that neighbors had told authorities they’d heard a sputtering plane engine and that it appeared the aircraft was circling before it crashed — a maneuver that could suggest a desperate search to land a crippled aircraft. “I’d like to think that,” he said. “That is the only vacant lot for (four) blocks.”

The three people on board died but no one else was killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board said there were no obvious reasons why the twin-engine Beechcraft Baron plane crashed in the suburb at about 10:40 p.m. Sunday, shortly after a takeoff from Chicago’s Midway’s International Airport for what the Federal Aviation Administration said was to be a flight to Lawrence, Kansas.

John Brannen, a NTSB investigator, said the pilot did not make a distress call before the plane “simply dropped off the radar.” Brannen said investigators would go to Midway, where the plane had been fueled, to take samples from the fuel truck to determine if there were any problems with the fuel. He also said investigators have not ruled out the overcast weather and the pilot’s experience as possible factors in the crash.

Whatever happened, Janusz said the neighborhood, where about 50-60 people live on the street and another couple of hundred people live in apartments a block away, was spared a “total disaster, too awful to think about.”

Boie said he had no immediate identification of the victims, adding a medical examiner was at the site Monday morning. About two blocks all around had been cordoned off by authorities. But he said there was no fire at the time of the crash and no evacuation ordered, though some people were kept away from their homes after the crash.

Boie said planes from Midway often fly overhead, but he recalled no incident in recent memory of a small plane crash in the community about 20 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

(Copyright 2014, The Associated Press, All rights reserved.)

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