Officials said the pilot was only about a half-mile from the airport when he experienced engine trouble and called in to ask if he could return to the airport. The small plane made contact with a building and then crashed into a nearby parking lot. The aircraft struck three cars.
The passenger, Benjamin Van Hyning, 18, of Jacksonville, Illinois, was killed. Todd Cole, 36, also of Jacksonville, was the pilot of the plane. Cole was in critical condition late Wednesday.
No one on the ground was injured.
"We do have one confirmed fatality on the scene. Another individual who was in the aircraft at the time was able to escape from the aircraft, was taken by fire department personnel approximately a half a mile away where that patient was flown out by flight for life to Lutheran General Hospital in very serious condition with burns and multiple fractures," said Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac.
The plane's fuel tank was apparently full as it exploded on impact.
"All of a sudden, a huge ball of black smoke. I turned and when I looked in the parking lot, there was a huge ... 12 feet of flames," said witness Christine Wolff.
"Looking towards the aircraft, saw that there was another person in the plane but the flames were too high, so I couldn't get in," said witness Rick Swearingen.
Officials said the plane is registered in downstate Jacksonville, Ill.
The FAA and NTSB were on the scene Wednesday evening, according to the Wheeling fire chief, and the investigation is under way.
Chicago Executive Airport is around 30 miles northwest of Chicago.