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Did pilot try to save lives in deadly Illinois plane crash?

CHICAGO -- Three people were killed when a small plane they were in crashed on the only vacant lot in a dense Chicago suburb of single-family homes, leading those on the scene Monday to say the pilot may have desperately looked for a spot to crash where it would not injure anyone on the ground.

The twin-engine Beechcraft Baron crashed in the Chicago suburb of Palos Hills around 10:40 p.m. Sunday, shortly after takeoff from Chicago Midway Airport for Lawrence, Kansas, said Lynn Lunsford of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Palos Hills Deputy Police Chief James Boie said that given the spot where the plane crashed and statements by neighbors who told authorities it appeared the plane was circling before it crashed makes it a real possibility that the pilot tried to save the lives of people in all the homes in the neighborhood.

"I'd like to think that," he said. "That is the only vacant lot for (four) blocks."

On Monday, National Transportation Safety Board investigator John Brannen told reporters the cause of the crash remains under investigation.

CBS Chicago reports that according to witnesses, it sounded like the plane was having issues before it crashed.

Agni Drossos told reporters at the scene that she was in her kitchen when she heard the plane fly over her home.

The plane "sounded like it was dying," Drossos said. "I thought it was going to land in my backyard, but it [crashed] a block behind my house."

One resident across the street from the vacant lot said that when she saw the crash site she was convinced that the pilot was trying to save lives. "It looks like he aimed for the one vacant spot," said Barbara Janusz, who lives with her daughter's family in a house where she said the plane's wings came to rest. "I'm sure he sacrificed his own life for everybody else's, bless his soul."

Janusz said about 50-60 people live on the block and a couple hundred more in apartments a block away. "It would have been a total disaster, too awful to think about."

Boie said that the plane hit some trees, adding that the wreckage was in a rather compact area.

"Some of the residents said they heard an airplane. It sounded like it was kind of sputtering and then it came down right away," Boie said. "It did come close to one of the houses."

He said he had no immediate identification of the victims, adding a medical examiner was at the site Monday morning. About two blocks all around had been cordoned off by authorities. But he said there was no fire at the time of the crash and no evacuation ordered, though some people were kept away from their homes after the crash.

Lunsford said in an earlier email that the FAA had sent a team to investigate and the National Transportation Safety Board had been notified.

Boie said planes from Midway often fly overhead, but he recalled no incident in recent memory of a small plane crash in the community about 20 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

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