The pilot of a small plane was killed when it crashed into a cornfield about 8 miles southeast of Rockford this morning, officials said.
The single-engine plane went down just after 8 a.m. not far from the Rockford airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. No one else was on board.
Officials were not releasing the name of the person killed, but Horace Flournoy, president of the Meadow Creek Airpark Homeowners Association, who said he is acting as a spokesman for the victim's family, said the man killed in the crash was Thomas Plodzien, 77, of South Chennault Avenue in the subdivision, the owner of the airplane.
Plodzien was the first resident of the Meadow Creek subdivision, a gated community just west of Monee in Will County that includes an airstrip, Flournoy said.
The pilot radioed around 8 a.m. that the plane was on fire and the pilot was trying to make it to the airport, according to Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten. About five minutes later, there was a report of a fire in the field where the plane down, he said.
The pilot told controllers at Rockford's airport there was smoke in the cockpit and he planned to make an emergency landing, according to Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn. When the airport lost contact with him, the sheriff's department started a search.
Harn says the plane was engulfed in flames when he got to the scene.
Seneca Modest said he noticed the plane having what appeared to be mechanical problems shortly before 8 a.m.
"It was flying overhead and suddenly it banked left, then it disappeared," Modest said. "It seemed like something wasn't right and I thought it was going to crash."
Modest learned later that the plane had crashed. "I really feel bad," he said.
The plane had taken off from DeKalb and was headed for the Chicago-Rockford Airport, officials said. The Ogle County coroner's office has not released the name of the pilot, and officials in Ogle County said they did not expect to make an official identification until Wednesday.
The plane's tail number indicates it was a Lancair 235 single-engine plane with two seats.
The neighborhood where Plodzien lived, Meadow Creek Airpark, near Monee, is a gated community of 65-70 upscale homes. Developed in the early 1990s, it includes an airstrip used by residents.
Flournoy said Plodzien served on the board, in addition to serving as president several times. Plodzien also was airport manager. "He was very friendly and very fair-minded," Flournoy said.
Flournoy said he's known Plodzien since he moved into the subdivision in 2002. Plodzien was the first resident in the neighborhood and saw the development expand to its current 65-70 homes. "He really contributed quite a lot to the development."
Flournoy estimated about one-third of the residents have airplanes, with
95 percent of those owners keeping their planes in the subdivision.
Plodzien served as a knowledge resource for younger, newer flight enthusiasts - in addition to managing the airport, Flournoy said.
"He was very outgoing, a very friendly guy." "He loved to fly and flew quite a bit. He had 2 planes. He was a very capable pilot." (Flournoy said he has flown a plane a couple of times but never flew with
"We're all kind of shaken up," Flournoy said.