Chicago's Palwaukee Gets Buffer Zone

A little more than a week after a Palwaukee plane crashed into a Prospect Heights back yard, plans to purchase land as a safety buffer zone were approved.

"The initial motivation for this was Midway," Mayor Rodney Pace said.

Pace refers to the crash last December at Midway Airport where a 6-year-old boy died after a Southwest Airlines plane skidded off the end of a runway during icy winter conditions. The plane failed to brake and crashed through a fence, smashing into the car the child was riding in.

Taking that incident into account, the Prospect Heights city council convened at a special meeting Monday to designate about 14 acres as part of a safety buffer zone for Palwaukee Municipal Airport. The deal should make the residential area surrounding the airport safer, Pace said.

Wheeling village officials faced the same vote Monday, as the airport is jointly owned by Wheeling and Prospect Heights, Pace said. The measure passed.

A grant from the Federal Aviation Administration led to the $10.75 million deal, Prospect Heights City Attorney Michael Zimmerman said.

A small twin-engine plane carrying a student flier and his instructor fell on Sept. 16, narrowly missing homes and power lines. The crash landing provided additional incentive for officials in Prospect Heights and Wheeling, Pace said. No one was hurt in the crash, the fourth involving a Palwaukee craft since 2004, and investigators have yet to determine the cause.

"We had a lot of good breaks that day," said Prospect Heights resident Don Martorelli, who lived on the 200 block of Thierry Lane, where the plane crashed.

Palwaukee's current buffer zone was less than the FAA's mandate, Pace said, but the airport had been receiving variances to get by. Midway also received waivers, as its buffer zone was also less than the recommendation at the time of December's crash.

"We saw this as a good time to go forward," Pace said.

The land in question is just south of runway 16/34, Zimmerman said.

On Oct. 17, Palwaukee's name will be changed to Chicago Executive Airport.



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