CHICAGO (AP) — People living in a Chicago suburb on Monday looked at scattered pieces of a small plane and wondered if the last act of the pilot before his death was to spare residents' lives by crash landing in an empty lot on a crowded street.
Three physicians died in the crash late Sunday in Palos Hills, officials said.
"It looks like (the pilot) aimed for the one vacant spot," said Barbara Janusz, who lives with her daughter's family in Palos Hills. "I'm sure he sacrificed his own life for everybody else's."
Palos Hills Deputy Police Chief James Boie had the same thought after surveying the scene. He said neighbors told authorities they heard a sputtering engine and the aircraft circling before it crashed — a maneuver that could suggest a desperate search to land a crippled aircraft.
"I'd like to think that," Boie said. "That is the only vacant lot for (four) blocks."
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 taking off from Chicago's Midway's International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane was heading to Lawrence, Kansas.
Two of the doctors who died had worked for Stormont-Vail HealthCare, the Topeka-based medical system said in a statement posted on its website. The company identified them as Tausif Rehman, a neurosurgeon, and pulmonologist Ali A. Kanchwala.
Stormont-Vail said the third victim was Kanchwala's wife, Maria Javaid, a cardiologist at the Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. It did not identify the pilot.
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 community about 20 miles southwest of downtown Chicago was spared a "total disaster, too awful to think about." About 50-60 people live on the street and another couple of hundred people live in apartments a block away.
John Hanna contributed to this report from Topeka, Kansas.