WHEELING, Illinois – A Learjet on final approach to the Chicago Executive Airport in northwest suburban Wheeling crashed into the Des Plaines River Tuesday January 5th killing both the pilot and co-pilot.
The small cargo plane was registered to Michigan-based Royal Air Cargo and was empty at the time of the accident. The flight left Waterford, Michigan around 1: 00 p.m. and had been hired to pick up a load in Wheeling, Illinois later that afternoon.
Emergency personnel arrived on the scene shortly after the accident and had to travel on-foot to reach the wreckage, which was submerged in about four feet of water. Authorities from several neighboring communities — Wheeling, Mount Prospect and others — sent crews to the scene of the crash. Members of the National Transportation Safety Board arrived around 4 p.m. and said the investigation would begin Wednesday morning.
Royal Air is a family run business which owns and operates both passenger aircraft and cargo planes. They have approximately two dozen aircraft and are no stranger to regulatory scrutiny, accidents and operational violations. In 1999, a Royal Air aircraft was involved in a crash in Pittsfield, Mass., which has some similarities to Tuesday’s accident. On March 25, 1999, a Royal Air plane plummeted almost 12,000 feet in less than a minute before hitting the ground. In both accidents there were sudden losses of communication just before the planes crashed. Pilot Brian Templeton, of Waterford, Mich., was killed in the 1999 accident.
A lawsuit related to the 1999 accident accident was filed by Nolan Law Group on behalf of the family of pilot Brian Templeton. According to the lawsuit, Royal Air Freight.was negligent in performing maintenance on the aircraft, autopilot and de-icing system and in supplying information to support an alternate means of compliance for an MU-2 Airworthiness Directive. Other Defendants include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Honeywell and Mid-Continent Instruments.
Royal Air was also sued by federal authorities in 1999 for cutting corners on engine maintenance and inspections. Violations listed in the lawsuit included failure to conduct scheduled inspections of engines, propellers and wing flaps and failure to produce maintenance records. The company ultimately agreed to pay $250,000 in fines for maintenance and record-keeping violations as part of an agreement with the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Less than a year later, the FAA proposed $60,000 in additional fines against Royal Air for allegedly failing to investigate the backgrounds of 13 newly hired pilots.