Two dead in small plane crash

January 6, 2010 4:38:10 AM PST
A Lear jet crashed Tuesday afternoon into a heavily wooded area of the forest preserve in northwest suburban Wheeling, killing the pilot and co-pilot. The plane took off from Waterford, Michigan around 1 p.m. and a half hour later crashed into the Des Plaines River near Chicago Executive Airport.

The scene is now a recovery effort, and the bodies of the victims- both male- remain at the crash site. Members of the National Transporation Safety Board got to the scene around 4 p.m. and said the investigation will proceed Wednesday. Local authorities had been waiting for their arrival.

Flood lights illuminated the crash scene on Tuesday night as crews prepared for the tough task investigators face in the morning: cataloging the debris and removing the bodies of the plane's two pilots.

"We look at the systems, the structures, the engines. We look at the crew and the environment, air traffic and the weather," said Pam Sullivan, NTSB

Emergency responders had to go by foot to get to the small plane, which crashed into about four feet of water in the Des Plaines River in the Cook County Forest Preserve. Authorities from several neighboring communities-- Wheeling, Mount Prospect and others-- sent crews to the scene of the crash. They set up a command center in Mount Prospect.

"It appears now the most devastating part of it was an impact to the aircraft," said Chief Jay Reardon, Mutual Aid Box Alarm System.

The Learjet was in the final seconds of flight cleared to land and less than a mile from the end of Runway 3-4. The pilots reported no problems. Air traffic controllers had the plane in sight. They were the first to report its deadly plunge into the Des Plaines River.

"They'd be talking to the tower regularly because they're be on their final phases of landing," said Dennis Rouleau, Chicago Executive Airport manager.

"A lot of jet fuel in the water. We did have two personnel in the water checking what debris we could on the surface," said Chief Wayne Globerger, Glenview Fire Department.

The plane is operated by Royal Air Charter, based in a suburb of Detroit. They have nearly two dozen aircraft. Airport managers in Michigan say they've been told this plane was empty, hired to pick-up cargo in Wheeling.

The crash in the forest preserve almost went unnoticed by those who live and work nearby.

"I thought it was like one of steel beams dropping on the road. It was just loud and vibrating," said Patty Manos who lives near the crash site.

"It wasn't that big, just like a boom. Like someone shut the door," said Rene Ituralde who works near the crash site.

Royal Air fined for violations in 1999

Royal Air is a family run business with both passenger and cargo planes. The company was sued by federal authorities in 1999 for cutting corners on engine maintenance and inspections.

Royal Air Freight of Waterford Township, Michigan agreed to pay $250,000 in fines for maintenance and record-keeping violations as part of an agreement with the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Violations listed in the lawsuit included failure to conduct scheduled inspections of engines, propellers and wing flaps and failure to produce maintenance records.

The case went back to 1994, when the Federal Aviation Administration found the violations. The U.S. attorney's office Filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the FAA.

Less than a year later the FAA proposed $60,000 in additional fines against Royal Air for allegedly failing to investigate the backgrounds of 13 newly hired pilots.

Also in 1999, a Royal aircraft was involved in a crash that appears similar to Tuesday's.

In March 25, 1999, in Pittsfield, Mass., a plane plummeted almost 12,000 feet in less than a minute before it hit the ground, according to a preliminary investigation of the crash.

Pilot Brian Templeton, of Waterford, Mich., was the only person on board the plane. There were no injuries on the ground. The MU-2 Mitsubishi turboprop, had been carrying a load of metal screws from Hagerstown, Md., to Bangor, Maine. Just before the plane crashed, several witnesses described seeing the plane spinning wildly in the air, making loud grinding or whining sounds. It crashed and burst into flames about 100 feet from a school bus garage in a field bordered by a shopping center, a residential area, a busy highway and a General Electric plant.

At the time, the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center told Templeton to contact air traffic controllers in Boston. The pilot did not contact Boston, however, and there were no further communications with the pilot. That is similar to what is described in today's crash, with a sudden loss of communication just before the accident