By Adam Sege
9:25 PM CDT, September 22, 2013
Two hours after landing his plane on Lake Shore Drive early Sunday, John Pedersen peered past rows of police cars, gaping drivers and news trucks, searching for his fiancee's red SUV while giving her directions.
"You can't miss it," he said into his cellphone.
The sight of an airplane parked on a strip of grass by Buckingham Fountain caused a spectacle Sunday. Police officers posed for photos, drivers slowed for a closer look, and joggers and bikers on the lakeshore path traded one-liners.
"Oh … this is where I left my airplane," one biker shouted to a companion.
Pedersen, of Lombard, had been flying his two-seat plane over downtown Chicago when a stabilizing part broke loose, causing the aircraft to shake violently.
Unable to regain stability, the 51-year-old electrician radioed a mayday to O'Hare International Airport.
"There's no way I could have got it to Midway or O'Hare," he said.
At the time of the mayday call, about 6 a.m., he was flying about 1,900 feet above Millennium Park, he said.
The sun had not yet risen over Lake Michigan, but already Lindsay O'Brien was starting to set up a water station in Grant Park for a 20-mile run. Looking up, she saw Pedersen's plane flying south across the western portion of the park, then banking and flying above Lake Shore Drive.
"I was like, 'That's really low,'" she recalled. "And then he disappeared out of my sightline."
Pedersen, who said he has been flying for five years, had decided Lake Shore Drive was his best landing spot. If timed correctly, he figured, he could bring down the plane while traffic was stopped at a red light.
"You pick a landing spot that's not going to jeopardize anybody else," he said.
When the light on East Balbo Drive turned red, he brought the plane down in the northbound lanes, its nose facing north.
It was a tricky landing, but he stuck it, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.
Two cars hit the airplane after it landed, then sped off, Pedersen said.
Pedersen walked away uninjured, and no other injuries were reported, Langford said.
"It's a blessing," Pedersen said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it is investigating.
Soon, Ileana Alvarez, Pedersen's fiancee, pulled up.
When Pedersen had called to tell her what had happened, she first thought he was joking, she said. It soon became clear he was not.
After asking how Pedersen brought the plane onto the grass, Alvarez couldn't resist ribbing him to those in earshot.
"And he wants me to get on a plane with him," she joked. "Are you kidding me?"
As she took in the scene, Alvarez became serious. "As long as he's OK, that's what matters to me."
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