The investigation into the crash of a private plane in southwest Naperville in which the pilot and his wife miraculously escaped with their lives likely will focus on the aircraft's engine.
Mark Banovetz, president of the Naper Aero Club and a neighbor of the Naperville couple injured in the crash, said the remains of the six-seat Piper Lance, including the engine and fuselage, have been taken to a secure location to be examined by federal aviation officials and representatives from the engine manufacturer, Lycombing Engines.
The probe is now in the hands of the National Transportation Safety Board. Investigators from that agency did not return phone calls.
"I'm not with the FAA or NTSB but I am an aviation attorney and I own the same (type of) plane, Banovetz said Thursday. "By all appearances, the aircraft was not climbing because the engine was not producing its rated power during the takeoff sequence.
The lack of power, oddly enough, may have saved the lives of pilot Lloyd McKee, 66, and his wife, Maureen, 63.
The plane had just taken off Wednesday afternoon from Aero Estates, an exclusive Naperville subdivision that caters to owners of small aircraft, and had traveled only a few hundred feet before the crash. McKee would not have been able to maneuver the plane even if he wanted to, Banovetz said, due to the lack of power and speed of the aircraft when it struck the soft Dryvit-sided cupola atop the XSport Fitness at 2780 Fitness Drive.
The couple remained listed in serious condition Thursday at Edward Hospital in Naperville where they were being treated for broken bones and lacerations. No injuries were reported at the fitness center.
"You could set about to re-create this crash 100 more times and I believe all 100 times you would have two fatalities, Banovetz said. "But if you're looking for the factual reason behind the miracle, I don't think you have to look any further than that the impact forced the removal of the wings and took energy away from the fuselage.
Even as Banovetz spoke Thursday afternoon, the surrounding area seemed to quickly return to normal. The Naper Aero runways had handled dozens of flights since Banovetz reopened it at 9 p.m. Wednesday and XSport Fitness reopened at 9:30 a.m. Thursday with only its basketball courts still out of commission.
XSport's Vice President Dennis Pierro said he expected the small hole in the ceiling caused by the crash to be repaired by Thursday evening and the decorative cupola to be repaired within the next few weeks. Pierro said he intends to play the McKees' birthdays in an upcoming Lottery drawing.
"This was unbelievable that not only was no one inside or outside the facility seriously injured or killed but the damage to the structure is also very minor, he said. "What could have been a disaster for many people turned out to be almost a nonevent and I'm very thankful because you can replace a building but you can't replace lives.
Banovetz said he spoke with Lloyd McKee, who was able to exit the plane on his own before rescuers arrived, early Thursday morning.
"(Lloyd) was in as good of spirits as you can expect, given the circumstances, and he's as anxious as anyone to find out exactly what happened up there, Banovetz said.
According to officials at the crash scene, the McKees took off from Aero Estates shortly after noon Wednesday headed for Pittsburgh, Pa.
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.
Banovetz called McKee the eyes and ears of Naper Aero Estates and said he takes his safety to extremes.
"Lloyd is so safety conscious, I've got to tell you, sometimes it can get a bit taxing, Banovetz said. "His home sits right at the center of the north-south runway and if there's a hair out of place on the runway or he sees pilots doing maneuvers he thinks are unsafe, I'm getting a phone call.
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.