'It's a miracle': Plane forced to land on Libertyville's Milwaukee Avenue; pilot unharmed
The small plane that passed directly over Jim Moran's Libertyville home had run into engine trouble at the worst possible time.
An experienced pilot and former flight instructor, Moran recognized what was wrong: the plane's only engine had failed in the dark of night.
"The plane was silent, except for an intermittent noise," Moran said.
From his backyard Friday night, he saw the plane's lights until it disappeared from view. Moran feared the worst.
"The only thing I could do at that point was wait for the crash sound, or the smoke," Moran said.
The pilot of a Piper PA-28 Cherokee averted disaster making a nighttime emergency landing on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue near Trader's Joe's around 10:18 p.m., police said. The pilot escaped unharmed, and no one else was hurt, authorities said. Moran said the pilot is lucky to be alive.
"Statistically, night emergency landings without power are very, very bad. Just statistically, it's hardly recognizable as being survivable. So he's very lucky," Moran said. "And on Milwaukee Avenue with power lines and rather narrow street traffic and everything else -- it's a miracle. It truly is. "
Moran watched the plane make an assertive left turn headed south and assumed the pilot was lining up with Milwaukee Avenue, a busy road about a mile west of his home.
"The survivability of night emergency landings is dramatically lower than daytime emergencies because from the air, a wooded field, a wooded forest, looks identical to an open field or a hilly cow pasture or a wandering riverbed," said Moran, who's been flying since the 1970s. "Everything is black."
Flying over his house, the plane's engine was silent, but Moran heard something and then he heard it again.
"And in retrospect, I think he was trying to start his engine," he said.
The plane managed to touch down without striking any vehicles or property, police said.
Moran's son, Jim, took some pictures of the plane after it came to rest. One of the images show an overhead obstruction over railroad tracks, and the plane parked right in front of it.
"To see that plane sitting on the ground right in front of that obstruction, the difference between tragedy and landing unharmed was a matter of a second or two," Moran said.
A preliminary investigation shows that the pilot experienced engine failure and was unable to restart the plane's engine, Vernon Hills police said. The plane landed on southbound Milwaukee Avenue, just south of Artaius Parkway in Vernon Hills.
Given the circumstances, Libertyville fire officials called it a "textbook landing" in a Facebook post Saturday.
The pilot called 911 once he landed. The plane was later towed to Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.
The aircraft has a registration number displayed on its side, according to photos posted on social media by witnesses. The Piper PA-28-140 is co-owned by a Spring Grove man, Federal Aviation Administration records indicate.
Moran has flown that plane or one like it "many, many hours." Oftentimes, it's used as a trainer.
If it were him, Moran would have chosen the toll road as an emergency landing site.
"But he survived," he said. "That's the important thing. "