Small plane crashes into Naperville gym

October 6, 2010 (NAPERVILLE, Ill.)

Two people onboard the plane-- identified as 66-year-old Lloyd McKee and his 63-year-old wife, Maureen-- sustained 'non-life threatening injuries.' No one inside the XSport Fitness Club at 2780 Fitness Dr. was injured.

The Naperville gym, located near 75th Street and Beebe, was temporarily evacuated while emergency crews rescued the plane's occupants.

The plane had just taken off at Aero Estates, a community of more than 100 homes, many with attached hangars, that have exclusive access to two on-site runways, when it crashed into the roof of the gym. A wing could be seen sticking out of the side of a decorative cupola, but the rest of the plane came to rest inside.

Despite a fuel spill after impact, there was no explosion or fire and the plane didn't actually enter any part of the gym, which had nearly 280 people inside.

"I kind of looked over and I thought, gee this plane is awful low. And then I'm realizing he's not gaining elevation and within seconds, he crashed into the building," said Jerry Strack, witness.

"I was upstairs on the second floor lifting weights with my trainer and all of a sudden I heard a big thump and a moment later I heard the staff, 'get out, get out!'" said John Gosciniak, witness.

Much to the amazement of firefighters and police, the husband and wife inside the plane were alert and talking.

"Once we heard a plane cashed into the building, our first thoughts were get there as fast as we can to help them out, and hopefully they were alive, and yes, they were alive," said Cmdr. Mike Anders, Naperville police. "They were conscious and they were able to communicate to the officers on the scene."

The couple had taken off seconds earlier from a residential area of Naperville in their plane, a single-engine Piper Lance. They were headed to Pittsburgh.

"It is a high-performance plane. He has to be experienced to fly it. That indicates to me that it wouldn't be necessarily pilot error as opposed to something like a malfunction," said Darryl Betler, Aero Estates board member.

Doctors are treating the couple at Edwards Hospital for cuts and fractures. They are in serious but stable condition.

"I'm optimistic that they're going to recover. I don't foresee anything being life or limb-threatening at this point. But a serious trauma patient is not out of the woods for a couple of days at the minimum," said Dr. Tom Scaletta, Emergency Room director, Edwards Hospital.

The McKees have lived at Aero Estates for at least 12 years and neighbors say they fly often. In fact, Lloyd McKee, a retired executive at Lucent, is the community's former board president.

"He's an instrument-rated pilot, and he's been flying in and out of this airport for a long time, so I know him to be a very capable and experienced pilot," said Mark Banovetz, board president, Naper Aero.

Aero Estates has never had a fatal accident on takeoff or landing but the 50-year-old community was built when there was less nearby development.

"It's so close to the end of the runway and it's just…it's shocking to see a plane situated in a building like that, but it's almost like an accident waiting to happen, as far as I'm concerned," said Jeff Stewart, Naperville resident

"The airport has a glide slope that is mandated by law, and the building is well below the glide slope," said Banovetz.

Heavy equipment was used to shore up the crash site Wednesday so the National Transportation Safety Board can begin its investigation.

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