NAPERVILLE, IL -- Just 21 hours after a plane crashed into its building, the XSport Fitness in Naperville, IL, reopened, and repairs to the facility are expected to be minimal.
Around noon last Wednesday, a Piper 32 aircraft taking off from the Naper Aero Club Airport, a private runway just 2,000 feet from the XSport building, crashed into a decorative cupola on the southwest corner of the building. The pilot, Lloyd McKee, and his wife, Maureen McKee, were injured, but no one in the club was hurt, according to Dennis Pierro, vice president of XSport Fitness, Chicago. The McKees have since been released from the hospital, according to various media outlets.
The garage-sized cupola was above a corner of the basketball court, which is on the second story of the building. Although some media reports say the basketball court was empty at the time of the crash, Pierro says some people were on the court but were safely evacuated.
XSport staff evacuated all 280 people inside the building within five minutes, Pierro says, immediately reuniting children from the play area with their parents and moving members far from the building even before the police and fire departments arrived, he says.
The building suffered no structural damage, Pierro says. Minor repairs to the roof have already been made, and cupola repairs are expected to be completed within two to three weeks. The only internal damage was a six-inch hole that the fire department punched into one wall of the basketball court to check for fuel, smoke or fire in the walls, Pierro says. The plane did leak fuel, but Pierro says it evaporated quickly.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation Safety Board and Homeland Security are investigating the incident. The FAA turned the building back over to XSport at around 4:30 p.m. on the day of the crash.
Danny Morrissey, the owner of XSport, brought in a crane to pull the plane out of the cupola, and roof repairs started immediately. By 9:30 a.m. the next day, the company was given the all-clear to reopen, which it did, except for the basketball court, which remained closed until the roof repairs were completed later that afternoon.
Pierro says the cost to repair the damage is unknown at this time, but he doesn’t expect it will be much.
“It hit a part of the building that was open,” Pierro says. “There was no damage to any of the equipment or any other part of the building itself.”
He added, “If you didn’t know that an airplane had been there, you’d think we were just doing some updating because it didn’t hit the structure of the building. If they had hit any other part of the building, it would have been a different story for us and them.”
Both XSport’s insurance company and the insurance company for the pilot were on the scene and will sort out the insurance issues, Pierro says. However, the immediate cost to hire the crane was left to XSport.
“It’s our building, so once they (the fire department) turn it over to us, it’s up to us to clean it up,” Pierro says.
XSport staff train for emergencies on a regular basis, practicing what they need to do, where they need to go and who is in charge of evacuating certain parts of the building—although they typically train for incidents such as fires and tornadoes, not plane crashes, Pierro says.
Each month, a corporate compliance manager visits each club for a walkthrough with the manager and operations manager, checking that exit signs work, that exits aren’t blocked and that other safety issues are addressed, Pierro says.
The day of the crash, Pierro had been working from home not far from the airport and arrived just 25 minutes after the crash.
“One of the eyewitnesses I talked to said that the airplane was very low and sounded like it was laboring,” Pierro says.
People who were inside the club when the crash occurred reported that they heard a loud thud, and some reported feeling the building shake. Some people said it sounded like someone had dropped several heavy weights, Pierro says.
Pierro returned to the club Friday evening as many members made their way around the building to view the damage, he says.
“It’ll be a talking point for quite some time,” he says. “Fortunately, the injuries are not life threatening. Once we have the cupola in place, it’s a memory.”
Pierro says the company hasn’t received any complaints from members about the club being temporarily closed or about the way the incident was handled.
Pierro adds that XSport did not need to get special insurance to build just 2,000 feet from the residential community runway, which opened in 1962. The city of Naperville is responsible for ensuring that buildings do not cause an issue for planes taking off and landing at the airport.
City engineer Bill Novack was quoted by one media outlet as saying that the XSport Fitness building is outside of the glide paths set for the runway.