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Fallen piece of plane wing causes flap in Wood Dale

October 19, 2000


It may have seemed like the sky was falling on Wood Dale this week.

Pieces of an airplane wing flap, for reasons still unclear, fell from a government-operated Boeing 727 that was heading to O'Hare Airport to pick up and drop off federal prisoners.

The biggest chunk, a thin strip 4 to 6 feet long and 1 to 3 feet wide, landed harmlessly in the backyard of a Wood Dale home. Ironically, that home on North Grove Avenue belongs to a local alderman who has been a vocal critic of O'Hare noise and expansion.

"It does make me mad, because we're constantly being preached to that things are getting better, that we need more flights at O'Hare," said Ald. David Tolemy (4th). "Yeah, you need more flights until what? Until something like this? Or somebody gets hurt or killed?

"It's scary in the sense that if one of my family members was outside, this could have fallen on them and they could have been hurt," said Tolemy, 47, who lives in the ranch house with his wife and two teenage children. "On the other hand it's kind of ironic."

The aircraft, which was operated by the U.S. Marshals Service and was carrying 87 prisoners, left Detroit and was on final approach to O'Hare Tuesday afternoon when the incident occurred, officials said. The aircraft, which was supposed to pick up and drop off prisoners and then head to Rochester, Minn., and Oklahoma City, landed without a problem.

In fact, the pilots didn't notice the missing flap piece until they were on the ground, officials said. They reported it at about the same time a citizen called authorities to report seeing something drop from a plane.

The Federal Aviation Administration called local police departments and sent inspectors to comb Tolemy's neighborhood, which sits below a flight path.

His daughter poked around the yard and found a piece of the flap, which helps create drag so planes can slow while landing. It hit the ground about 100 feet from the house, between a dead tree and an oak sapling. The impact left a 2-inch dent in the earth. A smaller piece landed in a neighbor's yard.

Kent Pekarek, assistant director for the Marshals Service's Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System, said a laminated part of the flap stripped off for some reason as the flap was used.

"It wasn't a mechanical or maintenance issue," he said, adding that the program he helps oversee runs six big planes, including the 34-year-old Boeing that was filled with shackled prisoners accused of, among other things, bank fraud and narcotics violations.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator David Bowling said the 727 is a commonly used passenger carrier, and he will try to determine whether something struck the plane or whether inadequate maintenance, equipment fatigue or something else was to blame for the incident.

Brad Townsend, city manager of Wood Dale, said, "The incident underscores why we are against the expansion of the airport because if you increase flights or runways, that simply increases the times and locations where this type of incident can occur."

-- Doris (, October 19, 2000


One of the serious problems facing the airlines is their aging fleet. The 727 must be about 30 years old. This work horse should have been turned out to pasture some time ago.

-- David Williams (, October 20, 2000.

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