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Small Plane Lands On I-355 At 159th Street In New Lenox; Pilot, 3 Passengers Suffer Injuries

By Marissa Parra and Meredith Barack

NEW LENOX, Ill. (CBS)-- Four people were injured on Thursday, when a small plane lost power and had to make a daring emergency landing on the Veterans Memorial Tollway in New Lenox.

According to Illinois State Police and the Federal Aviation Administration, the pilot and three passengers were on board the single-engine Beechcraft BE24 at the time of the landing on Interstate 355 near 159th Street around lunchtime.

As CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported, the pilot used the next best landing spot when there was no runway in sight. The plane ended up taking up the two southbound lanes.

The pilot and three passengers inside the plane were left rattled. Fortunately, there happens to be a hospital right near the scene.

Police said the plane made an emergency landing due to "unknown mechanical issues." The plane's flight records indicate that it took off around 11:11 a.m. from Lewis University airport – roughly 10 miles away in Romeoviille.

The plane was only in the air for about five minutes before plans went awry and the pilot had to make a quick decision.

He made an emergency landing while avoiding the traffic below. Incredibly, he missed every car.

Family members said the pilot has been flying for years, and rented the plane for the day to go to Indianapolis. After he got to an altitude of about 3,000 feet, the plane lost power.

All four people on the plane survived.

All four were taken to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox with non-life-threatening injuries. The passengers included a 15-year-old girl and two 21-year-old women. All four are from Wilmington, Illinois.

Family members said the pilot and the two 21-year-olds suffered broken backs, but they are thankful the injuries were not more serious.

CBS 2's Meredith Barack talked with family members outside Silver Cross Hospital on Thursday afternoon. The family of one of the 21-year-old women – identified as Kirstyn McKim, was outside the hospital all afternoon – with family members going in one by one to visit with her.

Kirstyn McKim
Kirstyn McKim (Credit: McKim Family)

We spoke to her stepfather. He said the other 21-year-old woman injured in the crash was the pilot's daughter and a friend of McKim's.

The pilot was expected to undergo surgery for his injuries.

We are told the 15-year-old girl on the plane was also a daughter of the pilot's, and walked away without a scratch.

McKim's family said the pilot was a hero.

"I'm just glad he had enough experience to do what he did," said McKim's stepfather, Tom Sanford. "It could have ended real different. He's a hero."

"He definitely saved all their lives – that's for sure," said McKim's mother, Michelle McKim. "I mean, it could have been way worse than what it was."

Kirstyn McKim's parents described what their daughter experienced the moment before the landing.

"She said she just closed her eyes and hoped for the best," Michelle McKim said.

"Hugged her best friend, told her she loved her," added Sanford.

Meanwhile, photos supplied to CBS 2 Thursday afternoon showed the plane there in the lanes of the expressway.

I-355 Small Plane Emergency Landing
(Supplied to CBS 2)

The nose was bent, the front and back doors were wide open, and there were scuff marks on the wing and around the plane.

I-355 Small Plane Emergency Landing
(Supplied to CBS 2)

"I took a drive and seen the plane," Sanford said. "It's just a godsend that he just landed."

FAA records indicated the Beechcraft was manufactured in 1975 and is registered to an owner in Chicago. Lewis University said all of its planes used to train students in its commercial aviation program are accounted for.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

All southbound lanes on I-355 were shut down after the incident, but police later were able to reopen one of the three lanes.

Crews began working to tow away the damaged plane around 2:30 p.m., and had cleared the scene by about 3:30 p.m., reopening all lanes of the tollway.

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