Plane forced to land on Libertyville’s Milwaukee Avenue; uninjured pilot

The small plane that passed directly over Jim Moran’s Libertyville home had experienced 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 quiet except for intermittent noise,” Moran said.

From his garden on Friday evening, he saw the lights of the plane until it disappeared from sight. Moran feared the worst.

“The only thing I could do at that time was wait for the sound of the crash or the smoke,” Moran said.

The pilot of a Piper PA-28 Cherokee averted disaster by 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 unscathed and no one else was injured, authorities said. Moran said the pilot was lucky to be alive.

“Statistically, nighttime emergency landings without power are very, very bad. Just statistically, he’s barely recognizable as survivable. So he’s very lucky,” Moran said. “And on Milwaukee Avenue with power lines and pretty tight highway traffic and everything else – it’s a miracle. It really is.”

Moran saw the plane making a sharp left turn to the south and assumed the pilot was lining up on Milwaukee Avenue, a busy road about a mile west of his home.


“The survivability of nighttime emergency landings is considerably less than that of daytime emergencies because from the air, a wooded field, a wooded forest, looks like an open field or a hilly cow pasture or a riverbed wandering,” said Moran, who has been flying since the 1970s. “It’s all black.”

As it flew over his house, the plane’s engine was silent, but Moran heard something, then he heard it again.

“And in retrospect, I think he was trying to start his engine,” he said.

The plane managed to land without hitting any vehicles or property, police said.

Moran’s son Jim took some photos of the plane after it came to rest. One of the images shows an overhead obstruction above the train tracks and the plane parked directly in front.

“To see that plane sitting on the ground right in front of that obstacle, the difference between a tragedy and a safe landing was only a matter of a second or two,” Moran said.

A preliminary investigation shows the pilot suffered 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, the Libertyville Fire Department called it a “manual landing” in a Facebook post on Saturday.

The pilot called 911 once he landed. The aircraft was then towed to Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.

The plane has a registration number displayed on the side, according to photos posted on social media by witnesses. The Piper PA-28-140 is part-owned by a Spring Grove man, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Moran flew this plane or a similar one for “very many hours”. Often he is used as a coach.

If it was him, Moran would have chosen the toll road as an emergency landing site.

“But he survived,” he said. “That’s the important thing.”

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