Updated 06/24/14 – 12:09 p.m.
OTTAWA, Ill. (CBS) — A Chicago man was killed, and an Arizona man was hospitalized, after their ultralight aircraft crashed Monday night in the middle of the Fox River near Ottawa.
Lake County Sheriff’s police said they got a call from the pilot — Nicholas Peterson, of Arizona — around 10:30 p.m., approximately 90 minutes after the aircraft crashed in the river. He had managed to swim to safety, but his passenger, 50-year-old Jeffrey Carpenter of Chicago, wasn’t able to get free from his harness, and went under the surface.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports the men took off from Skydive Chicago in Ottawa sometime Monday evening in an ultralight aircraft — either a paraglider or an ultraglider — which are commonly flown from that airfield.
Connie Reppine saw the aircraft flying overhead before the crash, and she immediately recognized the telltale sound of trouble.
“It was just like his engine was just making noises,” she said.
Reppine said the aircraft was flying so low it disappeared beneath the treeline, but not before she expressed her concerns out loud.
“I said mom, he’s going to crash in that river,” she said.
Reppine never heard the crash over the roar of the dam, but LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said the Peterson and Carpenter clearly knew they were about to crash, and were going to have to get away from the aircraft after it hit the water near the Dayton Dam.
Templeton said Peterson told police the aircraft experienced engine trouble before it went down in the middle of the river. The swift current pushed the aircraft against a tree in the middle of the river. Carpenter could not remove his harness, and became trapped under the water, pressed against the tree.
Peterson was able to cut himself free, and swim to shore, but it was approximately 90 minutes after the crash before he could contact police.
Crews tried to rescue Carpenter Monday night, but determined conditions were too dangerous – between the swift-flowing river, the growing darkness, and intermittent rain – and the search was suspended until daybreak.
“The current’s really fast, it’s over 7,000 feet per second, which is extremely swift water; flood stage. The water’s not that deep, but you can’t walk in it. It’ll wipe you right away,” said Marseilles Fire Chief Mick Garrison.
A hovercraft was brought in Tuesday morning when the search resumed, but it also had trouble navigating the river.
“Two gentlemen had to walk through the water, approximately 50 feet,” Garrison said.
Templeton said it was “absolutely remarkable” those two men were able to walk out to the wreck and get Carpenter’s body free. Carpenter was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:05 a.m.
Peterson was taken to OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa after he was rescued. Templeton said he was conscious and talking to investigators.