Plane's owner tells history of prior engine trouble
The owner of the plane that crashed Wednesday afternoon in Wheeling said in a statement Thursday the plane's engine had gotten a major overhaul over the past few months, but he understood it was ready to fly.
As well, the plane's previous pilot confirmed that necessary repairs had been made and that the aircraft had been certified as flyable.
However, the single-engine Beechcraft Sierra crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday from Chicago Executive Airport, killing the passenger, Benjamin VanHyning, 18, of Jacksonville, Ill. and critically injuring the pilot, Todd Cole, 36, also of Jacksonville.
In a statement sent to the Journal-Courier newspaper in Jacksonville Thursday morning, the plane's owner, attorney G. Ronald Kesinger, expressed his condolences to the families of VanHyning and Cole.
Kesinger said he needed to communicate in writing, since surgery to his larynx in Springfield on Wednesday has left him unable to speak for at least the next two days.
In his statement, Kesinger said he was supposed to take possession of the 1978 Beechcraft Sierra on July 1, but its previous owner, Larry Kohls of Chicago, told him the engine had become defective and was in need of a major overhaul.
The engine was sent to a repair shop in Michigan and returned to Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling where it was reinstalled.
Kohls' pilot, Jim Kwasek, said when he last flew the plane a few months ago there were no signs of its previous engine problems.
"The aircraft had been test flown and certified as OK," Kwasek said Thursday. "It flew wonderfully and was mechanically sound."
Cole, Kesinger's friend and mechanic, was going to come up to get the plane in October, but was delayed by his recent marriage. Instead he came this week, intending to fly it back to Jacksonville Airport.
Kwasek said the Beechcraft was certified ready to fly by a FAA-certified mechanic at Chicago Executive Airport. He said he's heard no theories as to what may have gone wrong Wednesday.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board did not return calls Thursday seeking information on the status of the investigation.
Authorities said the plane went down within a minute of takeoff just after 3 p.m. Once in the air, Cole quickly radioed that the plane had engine trouble and turned around, but the aircraft went down in the parking lot of the Acco building near Wolf and Hintz roads.
"Todd (Cole) is a very conscientious mechanic who has worked on my aircrafts in the last few years," Kesinger wrote. "I know how special he is to his mother, father, and, of course, to his new wife. I pray he recovers."
The relationship between Cole and VanHyning was not explained in the statement, but Kesinger expressed his grief for the younger man's death.
"I have never met young Benjamin VanHyning, but I hear nothing but good from my daughters, who knew him as a student at Jacksonville High School," Kesinger wrote.
The families of Cole and VanHyning could not be reached Thursday.
At last report, Cole remained in critical condition at Loyola University Medical Center Thursday, having crawled out of the wrecked aircraft himself the day before.
"This is a terrible, terrible tragedy," Kesinger wrote. "Inasmuch as I crashed an aircraft on Nov. 26, 1973, and survived to tell about it, I know the dangers of flying."
• Daily Herald staff writer Paul Biasco contributed to this report.