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UPDATED: 11/29/2011 – 9:48 p.m.
RIVERWOODS (CBS) — Three people were killed and two others injured when a small plane transporting a medical patient crashed late Monday in north suburban Riverwoods.
The Piper Navajo aircraft crashed about 10:50 p.m. Monday, near Portwine and Orange Brace roads in Riverwoods, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said. William Didier, 58; John Bialek, 80; and Ilomae Bialek, 75, were all killed in the crash.
At first light in Riverwoods, investigators began combing the wreckage of the small plane, removing suitcases from its crumbled shell.
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Family members of those hurt in the accident came by to survey the scene.
“It’s more shocking to me today than it was last night, last night there was just so much chaos,” Riverwoods resident John McGuire said. The plane crashed into his back yard.
“That’s 30, 35 feet from where I was sitting in the house,” he added. “You don’t expect tons of metal to come flying out of the sky.”
Two other neighbors, Kim and Charlie Norwesh, learned how life can change in seconds when they helped save two people from the crash. They were still up around 10:45 p.m. when they heard something.
“It was the most unusual sound,” Charlie told CBS 2′s Kristyn Hartman.
“I heard sort of like a whoosh fly over head and then I looked out my window … and saw, like, a flash and then a fire,” Kim said.
Charlie, a boy scout troop leader, didn’t hesitate to help. He crossed the street and ran into the wooded yard where the plane had crashed. Kim called 911.
“You have to get a fire, it’s a plane crash. 668 Portwine Road. I knew it was a big whoosh,” Kim told the 911 operator. “Get someone here fast, they’re taking ‘em out.”
“It was horrific, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Charlie said.
He said the copilot was screaming.
“The fire was getting too big and so I knew I had to get him out,” Charlie said. “So I reached over and I unlatched his seat belt and I think I hooked under his arms and pulled him out, what I think was just a hole in the side of the plane.”
Rescue crews arrived, but Charlie and Kim said they stuck around and offered support to the two survivors of the crash.
“Charlie and Kim Norwesh are heroes. When I emailed him this morning, I told him I’m proud to be their neighbor,” neighbor Ken Ashman said.
National Transportation Safety Board Air Safety Investigator Al Malinowski said the twin-engine plane might have run out of fuel. The plane took on 165 gallons of fuel in Jesup, Ga.; its capacity is 182 gallons.
Malinowski said he has not heard transmission tapes, but the 58-year-old pilot, William Didier, told controllers he was low on fuel before it crashed between two homes.
“You’ll get a smell at some accident sites. I can tell you factually that at this crash site, I did not smell any indications of fuel,” Malinowski said.
A homeowner heard the crash.
“I went out to the end of the street and I saw a small fire,” said Michael Dunn. “I thought it was a car that went off the road.”
“I don’t know if he got lucky or purposely did it, but he pancaked this plane in the trees, stopped it, came flat down. If he plowed into the tree it would have shredded the plane,” Dunn added.
Emergency crews found two of the five people in the plane dead at the scene, according to Battalion Chief Scott Knesley of the Lincolnshire Riverwoods Fire Protection District.
The plane, owned by Trans North Aviation, was on a medical mission, and also was carrying patient John Bialek, 80, who was suffering from a blood infection, and his 75-year-old wife Ilomae, as well as a flight paramedic.
Didier, of Cedar Grove, Wis., and Ilomae Bialek died in the crash. John Bialek died on the way to the hospital. The Bialeks were from Streamwood, but also had a vacation home in Florida.
The identities of the two survivors have not been released.
John’s blood condition had the Bialeks moving back to Streamwood to be with family. Neighbors in Florida said they were fine people.
“They were just wonderful neighbors … church-going, kind, devoted to their neighbors,” Sylvia Knell said.
The plane was registered out of Eagle River, Wis., Isham Corey said. It had just passed a safety inspection and the crash was the first in the company’s 33-year history, according to Ron Schaberg, the president and owner of Trans North Aviation Limited, which owned the plane.
Schaberg said the aircraft is inspected every 100 flight hours and underwent its last major inspection less than a week ago.
The company operates air ambulance, shuttle and charter flights out of Wisconsin, Chicago and Charleston, S.C., according to its website.
The flight originated in West Palm Beach, Fla. Shortly before 6 p.m. Eastern Time and stopped in Jesup, Ga. to refuel before continuing on to Chicago, Schaberg said.
The aircraft left Jesup-Wayne County Airport in Jesup, and was en route to Chicago Executive Airport when it crashed about five miles north of the airport, Isham Cory said. Prior to the crash, the plane was in contact with the Chicago Executive Airport to report a fuel problem.
Why the plane was over Riverwoods is one of many questions Malinowski seeks to answer. The plane was bound for Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling, but was north of the airport by several miles. A pilot-rated passenger survived the crash and Malinowski plans to interview him.
The plane did not have an event recorder, or “’black box,” as is mandatory on larger aircraft.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation, with the FAA and local authorities assisting.