NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) – The pilot of a small airplane and his wife survived a crash into the roof of an X-Sport Fitness Center in Naperville around noon Wednesday. The couple was seriously hurt, but their injuries were not life-threatening.
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The two people were taken to nearby Edward Hospital, according to a hospital spokesman. They suffered lacerations and broken bones and were listed in serious condition Wednesday afternoon.
The pilot, Lloyd McKee, 66, and his wife, Maureen McKee, 63, both residents of Aero Estates in unincorporated Naperville, had just taken off from the nearby Naper Aero Club airport and were headed for Pittsburgh, Penn., according to a Naperville police spokesman.
The plane crashed into the roof of the fitness center at 75th Street and Beebe Drive around noon, striking the building just above a basketball court.
The plane, a Piper 32, a small private aircraft, crashed into the roof of the health club, hitting the upper level of the building at a southwestern angle and crashing through that level, leaving a small hole in the side of a decorative turret. It was jutting out of the west side of the building after the crash. The damage was not widespread and there was no apparent evidence of a fire. The plane was virtually destroyed.
“It’s fortunate they survived that,” Naperville Police Cmdr. Mike Anders said. “Once we heard a plane crashed into the building … our first thoughts were get there as fast as we can to try to help them out and hopefully they were alive. And yes, they were. Fortunately, they were alive.”
Anders also said the McKees were conscious and able to communicate with rescue crews immediately after the crash.
“They seemed pretty calm for the event that happened,” said one firefighter who helped the couple.
“They had two police officers up on the roof. They were talking to the pilot which at the time was not in the airplane. He was laying down in the corner,” said another firefighter.
The building was evacuated shortly after police and fire officials arrived on scene. No one inside the building was hurt.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports that scores of people were working out in the gym at the time, but remarkably, no one was in the basketball court when the plane hit.
Brett Rowan was working out at the gym when the plane crashed through a decorative turret on the roof.
“So here I am working out on the treadmill and heard an awfully loud noise,” he said.
He and the other people working out didn’t know what happened, but ran to the basketball court to find out.
“And the noise came from above and it appeared as though a bunch of water was coming from the ceiling, leaking onto the basketball court, so our first thought was maybe like a pipe burst or something,” Rowan said.
That liquid was actually fuel from the plane, so the 280 gym members and staffers inside quickly evacuated the building.
Anders said “The biggest concerns was, obviously, you want to make sure that we’re rendering first aid as fast as we can to the people involved in the crash. But also, of course, you’ve got to make sure that all the people that were in the club were safe as soon as possible.”
Neighbor Mark Camp saw the couple taxi down to the fuel tanks to gas up before the crash.
“Everything sounded fine,” Camp said.
One witness said the plane never got any lift after takeoff. Longtime Naperville resident Brian Sherretz said he’s been concerned about the newer buildings around the airstrip for years.
“Like I said, with these big buildings around here it was just a matter of time before something happened like this.”
The FAA was investigating the exact cause of the accident as of Wednesday afternoon. It was not clear when crews would remove the plane from the building.
The fixed wing single-engine plane was manufactured in 1977 and is registered to a Wilmington, Del. address for Airplane Holdings Company, according to an online FAA directory.
Doctors told CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez that the McKees’ injuries were similar to those someone would suffer in a car crash. They also gave a lot of credit to paramedics at the scene, saying they did an outstanding job.
Dr. Tom Scaletta said, “It’s very clear that they had to do a significant extrication and rescue a couple stories above the ground. They did so rapidly and safely and that, I think, deserves a lot of recognition.”
The McKees live in the Aero Estates community in unincorporated Naperville and have a hangar attached to their home. The hangar opens up directly onto the Naper Aero airstrip.
About 70 planes are based at that airstrip, which has been open since the 1950s.
Neighbor Vladimir Maule said he heard about the crash shortly afterward when a member of the National Transportation Safety Board was speaking to reporters at the scene.
“And when I heard the name of our next-door neighbors, my knees almost gave out, because then it all came crashing in,” Maule said.
“To see the magnitude of the damage, we didn’t think that they would be OK,” said Camp.
Lloyd and Maureen McKee were expected to remain in the hospital for a couple days. Maule said Lloyd McKee is a very safe pilot and that he and his wife are “the nicest people.”
CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl reports that the fitness center sits less than half a mile away from the airstrip and sits almost directly in the path of planes that take off and land using the runway.
The Naper Aero Club has seen other mishaps involving planes either landing at the airport or based there. On May 8, 2008, a plane crash-landed at the airport. Also, on Nov. 2, 2001, a flight from Naper Aero had a gear collapse landing in Peoria. There were no injuries in those cases.
But on Oct. 1, 1999, a pilot from the Lima Lima stunt flight team, which is based at Naper Aero, was killed in a midair collision with another stunt plane.
CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl, Dana Kozlov, Kristyn Hartman and Roseanne Tellez contributed to this report.