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updated: 11/15/2017 6:17 AM

'I was just a glider.' Cary pilot recounts near disaster Sunday

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  • John Korinke, 29, was back in the air Tuesday, less than 48 hours after he survived a harrowing emergency landing in Grayslake after his plane's engine failed.

    John Korinke, 29, was back in the air Tuesday, less than 48 hours after he survived a harrowing emergency landing in Grayslake after his plane's engine failed.
    Courtesy of John Korinke

  • Cary pilot John Korinke snapped this photo showing where a metal rod blew through the engine of a 1979 Cessna 210 he was flying Sunday night, causing a complete engine failure, leading to an emergency landing in Grayslake.

    Cary pilot John Korinke snapped this photo showing where a metal rod blew through the engine of a 1979 Cessna 210 he was flying Sunday night, causing a complete engine failure, leading to an emergency landing in Grayslake.
    Courtesy of John Korinke

  • Cary pilot John Korinke made an emergency landing in this 1979 Cessna 210 Sunday night in Grayslake after it experienced a "catastrophic" engine failure.

    Cary pilot John Korinke made an emergency landing in this 1979 Cessna 210 Sunday night in Grayslake after it experienced a "catastrophic" engine failure.
    Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

 
 

About 10 minutes before his plane's engine failed Sunday night, John Korinke knew something was wrong.

The instruments on the 1979 Cessna 210 told him he'd lost oil pressure, but the experienced pilot and flight instructor couldn't figure out why.

A loud bang and a huge puff of smoke solved the mystery about 1,700 feet above the ground. A metal rod connecting the piston to the crankshaft had failed. It sheered away and blew a hole through the top of the engine.

"It was a catastrophic engine failure," said Korinke, a 29-year-old from Cary. "I definitely knew right away the engine was gone and wasn't coming back. I was just a glider at that point."

Korinke already had been checking his GPS for places to land if he couldn't reach his planned destination, Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.

Campbell Airport in Grayslake was the best option.

He switched his radio to Campbell's frequency and announced to whoever was listening that he was making an emergency landing. The poor weather and visibility meant no one else was taking off or landing there.

The cloud cover also meant that for the first 900 feet of Korinke's descent he couldn't see the ground and had to use GPS to point him in the right direction. When he broke through the clouds about 700 feet above the ground, he couldn't see the airport.

"I saw a couple of roads below me and just nothing," Korinke said. "I thought ... I don't have the airport in sight."

With no air traffic controller on duty at Campbell, Korinke relied on help from Chicago Approach, the agency that handles air traffic that isn't specific to any airport.

"The controller said to look at 230 degrees (southwest) and it would be about two miles away," Korinke said. "And I saw the white and green beacon they have there and knew I was going to make it to an airport environment."

But after aligning his plane with the runway lights, Korinke realized he wasn't going to make it. The Cessna was too low. He left his landing gear up and aimed for a wet, swampy area near the airport.

"I'm pretty sure if put the landing gear down the plane would have somersaulted," he said.

Instead, the belly of the plane smacked the soft ground about 150 feet away from the runway and slid toward Squaw Creek, a muddy waterway nearby. Fortunately, the airport's owner had built a bridge over the creek as wide as the runway for just this kind of scenario.

Korinke's plane slid over the bridge and came to a stop just short of the runway.

"He got a lot of (grief) for spending money on that bridge," Korinke said. "I would have ended up in the freezing cold creek if that bridge hadn't been there."

Korinke wasn't hurt and was out of the plane by the time emergency crews arrived on the scene.

Despite the near disaster, Korinke was back in the sky giving flying lessons Tuesday. He works at Chicago Executive Airport for a company called Fly There LLC. On Sunday night, he was flying back from Pierre, South Dakota, where he has been taking pheasant hunters in recent weeks.

He even had time Tuesday to fly over Campbell and get a bird's-eye view of where he made his emergency landing.

"I'd say (things are) back to normal," he said.

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