Plane in trouble lands at ex-airportBy John McCormick
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 28, 2003, Chicago Tribune
For the second time in slightly more than two weeks, an aircraft made an emergency landing Sunday at the now-closed Meigs Field, prompting renewed complaints from pilots that Mayor Richard Daley's decision to close the lakeside airport threatens the area's aviation safety.
The single-engine plane, en route to the annual Oshkosh air show in Wisconsin, landed shortly before noon on a patch of grass amid the rubble of what was once a runway. There were no injuries or damage to the plane.
Police said the 1946 Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser suffered an electrical failure and lost radio contact with air-traffic controllers while flying along the lake and north of the former airport. The pilot, who thought he might have been struck by lightning, decided he needed to land and knew Meigs was nearby.
"We saw him go around and it was sputtering," said Kitty McDonnell of Aurora, who was at the 12th Street beach near the Adler Planetarium when she noticed the struggling plane. "The wings were rocking and we didn't think he was going to make it around."
Witnesses estimated the plane, which took off earlier in the day from Jackson, Mich., was only about 20 feet above the roof of a beach clubhouse as it flew south to land.
"It was like he was running out of gas or something," said Jena Frisby of Lombard. "We thought he was going to hit the roof."
The plane's pilot, Richard Randall, 63, of Standish, Maine, couldn't be reached for comment. Randall's son said his father was flying with a friend, Dick Green.
Robert Randall said his father flies on an almost weekly basis during the summer months, often pulling advertising banners behind his plane over athletic events and county fairs. He said his father is used to landing on grass because he uses a grass runway in Maine.
The last emergency landing at the former Meigs Field was on July 12, when a helicopter pilot flying over the lake thought a bird had struck his chopper.
Steven Whitney, chairman of Friends of Meigs Field, said he's aware of at least four emergency landings at the former airport since 1995, although he suspects there have been many more.
"It doesn't happen everyday, but it happens often enough that safety is going to be at risk when it's no longer there," Whitney said. "People are taught to fly [within] gliding distance of land, so there's a lot of air traffic along the shore."
Daley closed Meigs in the middle of the night March 30, citing concerns about terrorists having access to an airport so close to the city's downtown. He has long wanted a park at the location.
City officials said it's unclear how long this plane will be stuck on Northerly Island, reminiscent of when one plane remained stranded for nearly a week after Daley closed the strip and others were stuck for days.
Dennis Cmunt, an operations inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration, said it doesn't appear the plane was hit by lightning. But he said electrical repairs are needed before it can be flown again.
"He did the correct thing and that is to put the plane down safely," said Elizabeth Isham Cory, an FAA spokeswoman.
Since Daley's demolition crews carved the runway at Meigs with Xs, the pilot might have to use an undamaged taxiway for takeoff, assuming he can win city approval to do so. It's also possible the plane will be trucked to another airport.
"There is debris, so we want to make sure the conditions ... are safe for takeoff," said Julian Green, a spokesman for the Chicago Park District.
Green said the park district, which plans to start demolition of the rest of the runway within 30 days, has no plans to incorporate a long stretch of grass--for possible future emergency landings--into the design of a new lakeside nature preserve and park planned for the island.
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune
July 28, 2003
It appears some folks still think Meigs Field is an airport.
A small plane in trouble landed at the shuttered airstrip Sunday, startling lakeside visitors and security. It's the second time this month that an aircraft has used the former lakefront airport for an emergency landing.
The plane landed amid rubble churned up by Mayor Daley's closure of Meigs after coming within 20 feet of the beach house roof at 12th Street Beach, witnesses said.
The two people inside the single-engine Piper aircraft were attempting to fly to an air show in Oshkosh, Wis., said Chicago police Sgt. Jerry Clancy of the Summer Mobile Unit.
"They lost radio contact--they weren't sure what happened,'' Clancy said.
The fliers suspected their alternator failed, he said.
Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration said the plane is registered to a Maine company and the aircraft had taken off early Sunday from Jackson, Mich. The pilot told the FAA that he had to make the emergency landing because of poor weather and electrical problems on board the plane.
Clancy said the pair hit bad weather north of Meigs and decided to turn around and land.
He said he witnessed "a nice, smooth landing.''
Witnesses said it was obvious the plane was in trouble.
"We saw it wobbling,'' said Joann Caccamo, 29, a production assistant from Plainfield who was visiting Chicago's lakefront. "He was really shaky.''
"It was scary,'' she said. "We actually expected to see flames.''
Caccamo and her friends said they first noticed the plane because of the noises it was making.
"Like sputtering, like engine problems,'' said Kitty McDonnell, 36, a mortgage loan officer from Aurora.
The plane was flying north and then doubled back, they said. As the pilot flew south, he flew low over the 12th Street Beach house, witnesses said.
"We thought he was going to hit the roof,'' McDonnell said.
Mayor Daley closed Meigs in the middle of the night March 30, citing terrorism concerns. But earlier this month, a helicopter pilot brought his craft down at Meigs after thinking he hit a bird.
As for Sunday's fliers, who are not thought to be linked to any terrorist groups, they are on their way back east.
"They just want to go home,'' Clancy said.
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