LOMBARD – Chicago's Lake Shore Drive is commonly a place for cars, buses and traffic jams, but early Sunday morning, it became a makeshift runway for a Lombard pilot who experienced plane trouble during his recreational flight.
Lombard resident John Pedersen, 51, landed his RANS S-6 Coyote II, two-seater plane on northbound Lake Shore Drive, about 500 feet north of Buckingham Fountain at about 6 a.m. Sunday. He had flown out of Schaumburg Regional Airport earlier that morning.
He said he was flying just south of the Willis Tower when he heard a crash and the plane began shaking violently.
"It was hard to control the aircraft," he said. "I reduced speed to try and correct the problem, but that made it worse. I thought the plane was actually going to break up before I got to the ground."
He learned later that the mechanical trouble was caused when a small piece of wire connected to the plane's elevator, which is located on the tail and used for stabilization, snapped.
As he was struggling to control the plane, Pedersen saw Lake Shore Drive and, determining he was too far from either of Chicago's airports to make the flight safely, he decided to land on the road.
He made a MAYDAY radio call to O'Hare Airport's control tower to let the controller know his plan and then set up for the landing. He said he watched the stop lights and when one went red, he went down into a steep dive to the ground.
"I had to be very aggressive," he said.
By the time the light changed to green, allowing the cars south of the plane to go, Pedersen had exited the aircraft and was standing by the side of the road, waiting for another red light so that he could push his plane off to the side. While the plane was still on Lake Shore Drive, two cars clipped its wings and drove off, Pedersen said.
Chicago's police and fire departments responded to the scene shortly after Pedersen landed to help him with the plane and make sure that there were no injuries.
"The police were all excited," he said. "They were having a blast and taking pictures. It made me feel better. Life's short. God has a sense of humor."
Pedersen has been flying for about five years, he said it was always a lifelong dream for him. He started flying on power parachutes before making the switch to fixed-wing aircrafts, like the one he flew on Sunday. Between the two vehicles, he estimates about 280 hours of flying.
The experience hasn't made Pedersen reluctant to return to the skies; he said he'll be back up and flying in a few weeks after his plane is repaired.
He met with a representative from the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday afternoon to review the plane trouble and the emergency landing. It was with this representative that Pedersen became aware of the broken wire, the source of his plane trouble.
The lesson he's taking out of this experience is to be even more careful before the flight when he examines the plane and prepares for takeoff.
"I'm going to continue to fly," he said. "Things happen and I take messages that God gives me. There's a reason for everything, and I don't think he wants me to stop flying."