HANNA CITY, Ill. (WMBD) — The small plane crash in Hanna City on Saturday was likely caused by engine trouble, based on the pilot’s distress call to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The single engine plane crashed into Gil’s Restaurant on Route 116, killing both pilot James Evanson, 75 and his wife and passenger, Lisa Evanson, 67, according to Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood.
In the nine-minute distress call, James told dispatch he was unable to make it to a nearby airport runway. Instead, he attempted to land the plane on Route 116 in Hanna City.
“Engine out… We’ve got a highway here I might need to land on it,” James told the dispatcher.
Towards the end of the call, the dispatcher asked James whether he saw any roads to land on, but there was no reply.
The plane dodged two cars before crashing into the restaurant.
“He was trying to save the people on the ground. He was a hell of a pilot… His left wing hit that pole, knocked the wing off and jerked him into the building. Had he missed that pole, he probably would have slid by Gil’s and be ok,” said eyewitness Ron Gulley, co-owner of Coffee Can.
Gulley said he initially thought it was a semi-truck hitting wires.
“There was a big bang. All the power went out, I think the whole town… It’s not everyday you see a plane land on [Route] 116 in the middle of town,” he said.
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said James was initially conscious on the scene, but suffered severe internal bleeding and broken bones. Lisa likely died instantly.
The Evansons’ daughter described her father as an avid airplane and helicopter pilot who served two tours in Vietnam.
She was not at all surprised that he was able to maneuver his plane between the cars, a skill she said was due his expertise as a pilot.
The plane, registered to James Evanson, took off from Santa Fe Airport at 7:30 a.m., according to Flight Aware, a website that provides real-time flight tracking data. It crashed in Hanna City at 12:30 p.m.
The crash is under investigation by Illinois State Police and National Transportation Safety Board.
An earlier version of this story attributed low fuel (10 gallons) as the cause of the crash. Consultation with an aviation expert determined 10 gallons is not considered low fuel in aviation and engine trouble was likely cause of crash. The official cause will be determined by NTSB after a thorough investigation.