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Lombard pilot unhurt in emergency landing on Lake Shore Drive

John Pedersen pilot five years examines damage his plane following an emergency landing Lake Shore Drive Chicago Sunday.  |

John Pedersen, a pilot of five years, examines the damage to his plane following an emergency landing on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on Sunday. | Sun-Times~Ashlee Rezin

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Updated: October 24, 2013 6:28AM

Landing at an airport was not an option, so Lake Shore Drive had to do.

That’s how 51-year-old pilot John Pedersen explained his decision to make an emergency landing of his airplane along the drive early Sunday morning after it developed mechanical problems.

“I thought the plane was going to break apart, so I just had to put it down,” said Pedersen as he stood in a grassy area near the lakefront trail. Firefighters pushed the small experimental aircraft there after it touched down, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Pedersen had been taking a leisurely cruise over the lakefront flying east from Schaumburg Regional Airport. Suddenly the plane started shaking violently after the elevator on the plane broke loose. The elevator, part of the plane’s stabilizer, enables the tail to go up and down. Pedersen said he could see it flying around.

He still had control and opted to land in the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive near Jackson after making a mayday call to O’Hare, he said, noting the problem started when he was about 2,000 feet south of the Willis Tower.

“I timed the stoplights,” said Pedersen, a Lombard resident and pilot of five years. “There wasn’t a whole lot of traffic. I thought it was the safest place to put the plane down.”

The single-engine airplane landed about 6 a.m., and no one was hurt, police and fire officials said.

Two vehicles struck the aircraft’s left wing after Pedersen landed, but drove off, he said. Police said they have no information with which to investigate the vehicles or drivers involved, but Pedersen described them as a black pick-up truck and a tan mini-van with plastic windows.

His fixed-wing aircraft, a RANS S-6 Coyote II, was built in 2003, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. By Sunday afternoon Pedersen said it was back in his Schaumburg hangar. He had mechanics remove the wings before hauling it on a flat-bed truck back out to the suburbs.

Pedersen, meanwhile, was in great spirits.

“It’s been a great day,” he said.

The outcome could have been much worse.

“This could have been fatal,” said Chicago Police Sgt. Craig Roberts, one of many police and fire officials gathered at the lakefront Sunday morning.

Up until 10 years ago, Pedersen might have had an actual runway to aim for — a point not lost on him. He brought his plane down a mile or so north of Northerly Island, once the home of Meigs Field.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley sent in bulldozers to carve giant Xs into Meigs’ runway in a midnight raid in 2003.

“I wish it was still there,” Pedersen said. “That’s where I would have landed.”

Only one person was aboard Pedersen’s aircraft Sunday, and the FAA will be investigating, spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said. Such investigations typically take several weeks.

No citations will be issued, Chicago Police at the scene said.

Pedersen plans to continue flying once the plane is repaired.

“My aviation career ends when they put me in a box in the ground,” he said.

He has never had anything like this happen before, but “there’s always a risk,” he said. “I always look for a place to land.”

He takes leisurely flights every week.

“That’s important,” Pedersen emphasized. “That’s probably what saved my life today.”

Pedersen said he didn’t file a flight plan because that isn’t required, but his plane was required to have a transponder, which enabled O’Hare to locate him. The plane passed an annual inspection a couple of months ago, he said.

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