How pilot who crashed into 'pitch black' woods near Chicago Executive Airport was rescued

Search teams used cellphone signals to locate and rescue a small-plane pilot who crashed last month in the "pitch black" woods northeast of Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.

Details have emerged of what happened after the pilot, whose flight originated in Indianapolis, reported running out of fuel as his Icon Aircraft Inc. A5 amphibious light sport plane approached the airport the evening of July 11. His wife was flying separately in another single-engine Icon and landed safely, officials said.

Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac said the pilot was found about a quarter-mile into Cook County's Dam No. 1 Woods East, where he'd been for at least an hour after the crash. That could have been significant if the man's injuries had been more serious than bumps and bruises.

"He was in the depth of the woods," MacIsaac added. "It was pitch black."

Documents from the Wheeling Fire Department and the Forest Preserves of Cook County police released in response to a Daily Herald open records request blacked out the Riverwoods pilot's name. Forest police, who have jurisdiction over Dam No. 1 Woods East, listed the man as 70 years old.

The Wheeling fire report says the crash involved the "owner and occupant."

A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board accident report released last week says the pilot and his wife departed Eagle Creek Airpark in Indianapolis at 6:32 p.m. July 11 for the trip to Chicago Executive. Each Icon was serviced with 12 gallons of fuel after landing in Indianapolis from the St. Louis area.

After running out of fuel near Chicago Executive, the small plane "had a total loss of power" before the forced landing in Dam No. 1 Woods East, according to the NTSB.

FAA records show the plane is registered to CG 422 LLC in Miami Beach. Florida Department of State records show CG 422 is a limited liability company with Thomas A. Garritano as manager, a Deerfield post office box for a mailing address and Purdy Avenue in Miami Beach as the principal place of business. A woman speaking on behalf of Garritano said he declined to comment.

  Wheeling Fire Department paramedics bring a pilot to a hospital after search crews found him in Dam No. 1 Woods East after crashing on the evening of July 11. Authorities said the Riverwoods pilot ran out of fuel on approach to Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling. Mark Welsh/

Records show an emergency dispatch for the plane crash went out to Wheeling and Prospect Heights first responders at 8:45 p.m. July 11. The initial information erroneously placed the wreck at Chicago Executive's air traffic control tower at 1060 S. Milwaukee Ave. in Wheeling.

"We've got two fire departments and two police departments going out to the airport," said MacIsaac, adding the plane disappeared from the control tower's radar, so its exact location wasn't immediately known.

After crashing in the woods, the pilot called his wife, MacIsaac said. She told him to contact the control tower. After telling the tower he believed he went down south of Dundee Road and west of the Tri-State Tollway, the pilot was directed to call 911.

With fresh information from the tower, MacIsaac said a rescue crew went from the airport to a Dam No. 1 Woods East entrance at Hintz Road and Milwaukee Avenue, while another went to the north end near Dundee and Portwine roads. Meanwhile, Wheeling police received the pilot's 911 call. Wireless data from the call led to authorities receiving the included latitude and longitude of the caller, believed to be accurate within 1,000 feet, to assist in the search.

Crews in the field received a screen shot of a map created from the location information captured from the cellular tower. MacIsaac said the search teams spread out in a quadrant, with some going down a horse trail south of Dundee. MacIsaac said the pilot was found off the bridle path and walked out with firefighters. He was brought to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge as a precaution.

"It really was a team effort," MacIsaac said.

Cook County forest resource management supervisor John McCabe arrived with a crew to Dam No. 1 Woods East about 9:15 a.m. July 13 to dismantle the plane, according to documents. The pilot arrived at 11:50 a.m. to take pictures of his damaged aircraft, valued at $389,000.

Documents show a truck hauled the Icon from the woods about 40 minutes after the pilot showed up.

Airport Executive Director Jamie Abbott expressed his appreciation for the work that went into the search.

"I'm not at all surprised by the quick actions and extraordinary efforts of our first responders," Abbott said. "They are top-notch professionals and we are proud to work alongside them here at the airport."

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