It had all the makings of a major tragedy.
A Naperville couple, taking off in their private plane from their subdivision, crashed into a nearby fitness center Wednesday. The couple, though seriously injured, survived. And none of the 75 or more people inside the building were hurt.
The plane apparently failed to gain enough altitude as it left the runway in the Aero Estates subdivision and crashed into the building, no more than a few hundred feet away.
The pilot, Lloyd McKee, 66, and his wife, Maureen, 63, were in serious condition at Edward Hospital being treated for broken bones and cuts, officials said.
“If you could have a perfect set of circumstances in a very tragic situation, this was it, said Naperville Police Chief David Dial.
The plane ripped through what was described as a “decorative corner facade of the XSport Fitness facility at 2780 Fitness Drive near Route 59 and 75th Street just after noon. The unoccupied section of the 4-year-old building was made up of drywall and thin layers of aluminum panels that easily gave way when the plane tore through it, authorities said. The wreckage came to rest atop the building and never entered the workout center.
The McKees were pinned inside the wreckage and had to be extricated, but were conscious and breathing when emergency personnel arrived. Fire officials said the couple suffered “significant musculo-skeletal injuries.
But Dial noted fuel tanks in the wings did not leak, gas that leaked from the engine compartment didn't ignite and no one inside the building was hurt.
“It was really the best of a bad situation, he said.
Officers Bill Townsend and Frank Tonkovich were the first to arrive on the scene, and Dial said he “couldn't believe the McKees were alive. The officers ordered the fitness center evacuated and gave medical aid until paramedics arrived.
“It's obviously a rare call to deal with, Dial said.
An Edward Hospital spokesman said the McKees arrived in separate ambulances at about 1 p.m. They were both conscious, awake and alert.
Authorities said the couple was headed for Pittsburgh, Pa.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration arrived about 1:30 p.m. and indicated they had no immediate plans to discuss the crash. It's unclear when the plane will be removed from the building, but officials said they will need permission from the insurance companies representing both the pilot and the business.
The McKees' plane was a seven-seat Piper Lance, manufactured in 1977, according to aviation records. It is owned by a holding company located in Wilmington, Del.
Lloyd McKee has held a private pilot's license since 2005, FAA records show. He also has an instrument rating certification, which allows him to fly in more inclement weather and through clouds.
Lloyd McKee's last medical checkup for his pilot's license took place in August. A notation in his FAA file indicates a requirement to wear glasses.
Maureen McKee is an award-winning artist who formerly served as an officer on the Naperville Art League's board of directors, said Debbie Venezia, the organization's executive director. Maureen McKee works primarily in oil paintings and does impressionist material.
One patron of the fitness center, Brett Rowan of Naperville, said he was working out on a treadmill at the time of the crash. He said it initially sounded as if someone had dropped a weight, but then he realized it was something much more. People in the facility ran to the gym where they smelled gas and saw water gushing from the ceiling, Rowan said.
Tasos Kalamaras, another Naperville resident who was working out at the time, said he's frequently nervous about low-flying planes in the area.
“Planes always fly so low here so I always hold my breath, he said.
The fitness center is located a few hundred feet directly north of the end of an Aero Estates runway. The exclusive subdivision caters to owners of small planes and many houses are fitted with hangars to store aircraft.
Darryl Betler, second vice president of Aero Estates Association, said the 115-home subdivision has three runways, two that run north and south and one that runs east and west.
The association enacted its disaster plan immediately upon learning of the crash, he said. The airstrip will be shut down until its receives FAA permission to reopen.
He said it appears McKee was unable to get the necessary altitude to avoid the crash.
“They picked a perfect day to fly, he said. “The skies are clear and there's very little crosswind.
Staff writers Marie Wilson and Marco Santana contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.